Police have been asked to urgently assess the scale of drink spiking at nightclubs and parties amid a rise in reports and claims some people have been drugged by injection.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked forces for an update after some said they had seen more spiking incidents in recent months.
Police chiefs have also been tasked by the Commons Home Affairs Committee to urgently provide more information on their assessment of the scale of the problem after reports of incidents in several parts of the country, including Nottingham, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Groups from more than 30 universities around the UK have joined an online campaign calling for the boycott of nightclubs, with campaigners seeking “tangible” changes to make them safer, such as covers/stoppers for drinks, better training for staff and more rigorous searches of clubbers.
A petition launched last week to make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry has already gained more than 120,000 signatures.
It comes as a University of Nottingham student told how she believes she was spiked with an injection during a night-out with friends.
Zara Owen, 19, from Surrey, said she blacked out soon after arriving at a venue last Monday, telling BBC Breakfast: “I know I didn’t drink as much as I usually would on a night-out this night, and the fact that I don’t remember anything is terrifying for me because this is something that is a very rare occasion to me.
“I’ve never suffered with memory loss and then the next morning… I woke up with a really painful leg.
“I found a pin prick in my leg which was the epicentre of all pain. It made me unable to walk and I was limping around.
“As a young person who’s at university, I’m hearing stories of people who have been to nightclubs and they have been injected. I have heard stories of someone having it through their hand or through their back, so this kind of gave me an idea this had happened to me.”
A Loughborough University student, who said she was also spiked by injection at her student union, did not report the incident to police because she was not confident it would be properly investigated.
The second year undergraduate said despite being admitted to hospital, she claimed she received “no contact at all” from the union in the days following the incident, which occurred earlier this month.
But universities say the increasing number of reports of such incidents on nights out are “incredibly disturbing” and are working with police to ensure student safety.
Multiple institutions have condemned the “appalling behaviour” and have expressed solidarity with the victims of incidents.
A joint statement from the University of Bristol and Bristol Students’ Union said: “We are aware of an increasing number of reports from across the country of young people experiencing drink spiking or even spiking via injection in bars and nightclubs.
“This is incredibly disturbing, particularly as this is the first time a lot of young people have been able to get out and have fun following months of lockdowns and restrictions on their freedom.
“We stand together in condemning such appalling behaviour.
“To be clear, victims of drink spiking are not the ones at fault and our students should be able to enjoy themselves without fear.”
Police Scotland is also looking into similar reports. A spokesman said: “Officers are carrying out inquiries and a small number of reports from the Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow areas are being investigated. These do not appear to be linked.”
Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “It’s absolutely disgusting that in the past few days a number of students have reported instances of women being spiked on nights out.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds described the reports of the “vile act” as “terrifying”, adding: “This awful crime needs to be clamped down on without delay.”
The chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association Michael Kill said the organisation was “very concerned” about the reports and called on the Home Office to do more to investigate the problem.
Although the industry is working to try to keep customers safe, Mr Kill warned: “The truth is, though, very real challenges still exist.
“We know this is a societal problem, but it is very difficult to say with any real certainty what the scale of this problem is.”
Sarah Crew, temporary Chief Constable for Avon and Somerset Police who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s (NPCC) work on rape and adult sexual offences, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday: “In terms of the injection spiking, I only became aware of that this morning so I know about the reports…
“I think it’s a fair assumption there may be a sexual motive in those, but there isn’t an indication.”
It is “difficult to make an assessment on that particular trend at the moment, in terms of the more general drink spiking we do know that that’s a problem,” she added.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said she had not heard about the injection spiking incidents but told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that they sounded “very worrying”.
Reports of women having their drink spiked in London have increased in the past five years from 136 in the year to September 2017 to 473 in the year to September 2021, the committee heard.
The Met’s Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said this had coincided with awareness campaigns which may have led to an increase in reporting.
Spiking drinks can lead to up to 10 years in prison – or even higher if other offences like rape, robbery or another assault has taken place.