Police Scotland are actively inves- tigating seven cases of spiking at the University of St Andrews. This comes after a year where reports of spiking in Scotland have hit record highs, with a total of 152 cases of spiking being investigated by police within the first ten months of 2021. Of those 152 cases, 51 reported they had been spiked via injection, 69 had their drinks spiked, and police were unable to determine the method of spiking for the remaining 32 cases. Women were at higher risk of having their drink spiked, with 128 cases involving women out of the 152 reports, but men were also at risk with 22 being targeted. Two people did not specify gender. On why spikings occur Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said, “We are not always able to determine the reasons why a perpetrator carries out an assault in this way but would like to reassure you that every report is taken seriously and perpetrators are dealt with swiftly and robustly. We are working with partners to ensure licensed premises are safe spaces for all.” Despite the high number of reports of spiking by injections, police have been unable to confirm that any needles have in fact been used to spike people. An investigation launched in response to the high number of reports of spiking concluded that there was no evidence of drugs used for spiking in the systems of those who reported being spiked with a needle. Detective Chief Superintendent Laura Mackie, who led the investigation, said, “We’re only now starting to see the outcome of the forensic results, and I’m pleased to say that we’re not seeing any drugs within people’s systems that we would class as being a drug that would be used in spiking. “There is clearly alcohol involved, there is clearly recreational drug use involved, however, we don’t have any identified cases of any spiking by injection in Scotland at this time. “We will obviously continue to monitor that over the coming weeks and months.”
There are possible explanations for the discrepancies between the number of reports of spiking by injection, and the results of the subsequent investigation. Both reluctance to report potential incidents of spiking and challenges identifying new drugs could be factors in the findings of the Police Scotland investigation. Kate Mcleod of Scottish Drugs Forum said, “It is important to highlight that one of the effects of traumatic incidents on the brain is that they can impair our ability to filememories which can bring in significant challenges for people reporting and gathering evidence. “It is fairly common that people report incidents a number of days or longer afterwards, which would make detection of substances challenging given some substances are out [of] the system within 24 hours. “New substances of concern do emerge so it is important to be vigilant and responsive to any new compounds that may be more easily administered and used in this way.
“Where new substances do emerge, we would typically see them in other settings in the community so therefore access to a range of drug-testing facilities is an important part of identifying any potential new trends.”
In response to the rise in spikings, The Big Night In was organised back in October 2021, a town-hall style gathering chaired by the St Andrews Feminist Society
co-president, Sophia Brousset. The panel also included representatives of the Students’ Association, Willie Rennie MSP; Proctor Professor Clare Peddie; Andrew Thomson, operations manager of The Scotsman Group; Dr Lara Meischke, director of student services, and Wendy Chamberlain MP. After fielding questions from the audience, the panelists pledged to tackle spiking head on, while emphasising the serious nature of the issue. Rennie said, “There is a manifest concern among students about this stealthy threat that could hit them when they are simply enjoying life. “I was at the meeting to stand with them and to take responsibility for making their lives safer. “I had already raised the issue in parliament this week when I asked the government to fund testing strips for every venue in the country, and now have a long list of additional measures that I am determined to explore.” The seven active cases of spiking currently being investigated in St Andrews occurred between 16 October and 18 November, with 11 total reports of spiking be- ing filed within that time period. A spokesperson for Police Scotland said, “Between Saturday, October 16 and Thursday, November 18 2021, 11 people reported to police that they believed their drinks had been spiked whilst out socializing in St Andrews. Of those reports, three were withdrawn by the complainers, and following investigation, one has been concluded as no criminality had taken place. “Enquiries are ongoing into the remaining seven reports.”
The Student Union has implemented several measures to keep students safe from spiking including
random bag searches, increased security training, increased signage throughout the Union about spiking and spiking prevention, and test strips for drinks and urine available to those who believe they have been spiked.
Anna-Ruth Cockerham, the Students’ Association’s director of well-being, said, “The Students’ Association has taken a range of measures to tackle spiking and ensure that our students can have a safe night out.
“The responsibility for spiking lies solely with the perpetrators and anyone found spiking on our premises will be banned from our premises for life and referred to the university conduct officer and the police.”
The vice-principal for education, Professor Claire Peddie said, “We take this issue extremely seriously. It’s clear from evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee this week that this is a deeply worrying and apparently widespread problem which generates a significant concern among students here and at universities around the country.
"We are working very closely with our Students’ Association and other student groups and have implemented practical measures to protect our students and help them to feel more secure, including ensuring that our student services critical responders are equipped with test strips.
"We have also held helpful discussions at a senior level with Police Scotland and continue to work closely with our community police officers on steps to support prevention, evidence gathering and detection.”
Multiple women in St Andrews have come forward to share their experiences being spiked at events, including the annual Welly Ball. One attendee, Lauren Gravener, was reported as a missing person as a result of being spiked.
She said, “I got spiked a few weeks ago at the Welly Ball and was consequently reported as a missing person until I was found early that morning. I reported it to the police, who said that they had never encountered a case of spiking in Fife in their 12 years of police work.
“I know that at the time, which was two days after the Welly Ball, that two others had gone to the police saying they believed they had been spiked as well.”
No new cases of spiking have been reported in Scotland in the last week, indicating a downward trend. Nevertheless, officials are continuing to take the problem of spiking seriously.
Assistant Chief Constable Richie said, “Every report is and will be taken seriously and fully investigated and that will include a full forensic investigation when appropriate," he added. "People should be able to go out for a night out without fear of being spiked."
Image: Oliver Keenan