Joining forces to keep visitors to our night-time economy safe

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Nationally there have been reports of people being spiked, either through their drinks or through injection.

Nationally there have been reports of people being spiked, either through their drinks or through injection.

Here on Merseyside we have had a number of reports of both types of spiking in recent weeks and as a result we have set up a designated investigation team to ensure that each report is investigated and people affected are provided with support.

Merseyside Police and the Police Commissioner, Emily Spurrell, have been working closely with a host of partners across the city including Liverpool City Council; Public Health; licensees; licensing; the three universities and LIPA to make sure that we have a public health approach to tackle the issue of spiking. Together we have a vested interest in ensuring that we keep people safe in the city centre; empowering visitors to the city by helping them access safety advice available and providing help and support to potential victims of this type crime.

Liverpool is one of the safest cities in the UK and its vibrant nightlife attracts visitors from all over the country, as well as from the region, who want to enjoy the fantastic facilities we have to offer, and this is reflected in the Purple Flag status it has been awarded for more than a decade.

Every weekend we have a robust and proactive policing plan in place to protect vulnerable people, identify potential offenders and support victims as well as providing a visible and reassuring presence in the city centre and the town centres across Merseyside which have a night-time economy.

And this weekend will be no exception.

Liverpool community policing Superintendent Diane Pownall said: “Concerns have been raised over reports of spikings nationally and locally and we understand why hearing about incidents being reported in Merseyside will make people anxious.

“We take offences of this nature very seriously and we have set up a dedicated investigation team to provide support to anyone who thinks they are a victim of this type of crime.

“All reports of this nature received by Merseyside Police will be extensively investigated with officers looking at CCTV, as well as speaking to victims and potential witnesses, and looking into medical evidence.

“There is no suggestion of any additional crimes being committed as a result of any of the spiking reports we have had, but I think it is important to stress how important it is to contact the police immediately if you think you have been a victim of spiking so the appropriate tests and enquiries can be carried out. If you leave it for any length of time any evidence will be lost.

“We know that some people may be reluctant to come forward because they have taken recreational drugs and are concerned that this could lead to them being prosecuted, but that is not the case. If we receive a report of spiking we need to carry out tests to see if there is a substance that has been administered, we are not interested in what drugs you may have taken recreationally, we just need to establish if you have a substance in your body that you have not put there, which will help us take the investigation forward.

“So our advice is if you think you have been spiked please come forward, as we can identify that is the case and then take the investigation forward and safeguard others who could be targeted.

“If you think a friend is acting out of character after having a drink and are concerned that they may have been spiked then please contact us or alert bar or door staff immediately. On the other hand, if you’ve had a really good night and you think your friend may be a bit worse for wear because you’ve had such a good night out then please make sure they get home safely.

Superintendent Diane Pownall added: “We know this is not something that we can tackle alone and as such we are working with partners including public health, local authorities, the universities and licensed premises to tackle the issue head on and offer reassurance.

“The setting up of a dedicated investigation team is in addition to Operation Empower, which was introduced in April, and is our proactive policing response to preventing sexual violence.

“We deploy additional officers, in key locations on busy nights or at important events, who are tasked with identifying potential perpetrators who are displaying signs of predatory behaviour such as loitering without good reason, or giving or approaching females with unwanted attention.

“Bystander training has also been given to licensed premises and other partners to help officers identify individuals and officers are also asked to be aware of anyone who may present as vulnerable and consider any immediate safeguarding concerns.

“I would encourage anyone with any concerns to seek assistance from bar and door staff or speak to our uniformed officers on the streets who can offer immediate assistance.”

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell said: “The recent reports of drinking spiking and people being injected with a needle are very worrying and are understandably causing concern.

“I would reassure anyone heading into the city that the police are very alive to this issue and are using proactive measures, including high-visibility patrols, additional officers and Operation Empower, to identify potential perpetrators and disrupt those who would cause harm. They have also established a dedicated investigation team, so I would encourage anyone who thinks they have been affected to please report it.

“In partnership with LCR Pride, Stop Hate UK, Nightlife CIC, Liverpool City Council and many others, I have also launched ‘You’re Safe Here’ offering free training for night time venues to ensure their staff can identify and respond effectively when someone is vulnerable. This scheme will ensure they are equipped to help anyone who suffers abuse, intimidation or any form of unacceptable behaviour while out in the city and provide safe spaces for all.

“I recently secured £270,000 of additional Safer Streets funding to improve women’s safety across our region’s transport network and this money is now being used to improve CCTV coverage particularly at city centre bus stations, creating new ‘help points’ connected to the CityWatch control room and better links with emergency services. Travel centres at each of the bus stations will also become ‘safe spaces’ for anyone who feels vulnerable.  I am also supporting efforts to get the night buses running again to ensure people can get home safely at all hours.

“I will continue to monitor reports and stay in touch with the Chief Constable about the number of incidents in Merseyside and the force’s response.” 

Liverpool’s Cabinet Member responsible for Public Health, Councillor Frazer Lake: “People on a night out should quite rightly expect to be safe and protected. With the current increase in awareness around spiking cases, we’re urging everyone to be on the look-out for suspicious behaviour and also be ‘in-the-know’ when it comes to recognising any potential symptoms which can include: sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, speech difficulties and mental confusion. 

 “The Talk To Frank site is full of top tips and advice, with one of the key messages being if something doesn’t feel right, let your group of friends or venue staff know. By shining a spotlight on what people can look out for and what action they can take, we can ensure everyone is as safe as possible in the city.”

City Manager Kevin Johnson, added: “We welcome the multi-agency approach to tackling spiking and we will have our licensing team on the ground, engaging with venues, reassuring and working with staff to ensure effective search policies are in place.”

John Hughes, Chief Executive of Liverpoool Nightlife, said: “Everyone in the city centre night-time economy works tirelessly to ensure that those coming into Liverpool for a night out are looked after as best as we can.

“The licensing industry is working very closely with Merseyside Police, Liverpool City Council and other organisations to maximise the safety of those visiting the city and following reports of spikings we have stepped up our security and are currently putting  our staff up for additional training so that they can recognise symptoms of someone who has been spiked and can support someone within their venues who believe they have been spiked. Liverpool has Purple Flag Status and this is because of the brilliant work we all do together to look after everyone.”

We have also been working closely with the universities in the city and student group.

Dr Penny Haughan, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost at Liverpool Hope University, said: “The safety of our students is Hope’s utmost priority and we’ve been deeply concerned about the recent rise in reports of spiking incidents in the city.

“Hope is, however, encouraged by the actions being taken by Merseyside Police, the City Council and other authorities operating in Liverpool city centre to try to combat the threat of spiking. We’re reassured that the potential danger is being taken extremely seriously and we welcome news of the deployment of additional police officers to the street, as well as increased security in bars and clubs, and it’s now paramount that support systems are in place to identify and support victims.

“Hope will also offer full support and guidance to any of its students who fear they have become a victim of spiking.”

Liverpool University and the Students Guild have also issued the following statement: “Anyone affected by spiking is a victim of violence and not to blame. However, it is understandable that because of these reports many of you may now feel concerned or anxious going out to clubs and bars. We want to assure you that we are currently working closely with our city partners and would encourage anyone affected to report incidents directly to the police, and call 999 in an emergency.

“If you believe you have been the victim of spiking please seek medical attention as soon as possible, only go home with someone you trust and speak to our support services who will be able to help you.” 

Michael Mercer the Registrar for LIPA added: "We welcome the extra police and council presence on the streets and at venues this weekend. We urge our students, and anyone planning a night out, to be alert for incidents of spiking. Please be vigilant, take care of your friends and if the worst happens, do not hesitate to report it."

Report any crime by calling 101 or via our website: www.merseysidepolice.uk. Don’t forget, reports that are not urgent can be made via @MerPolCC on Twitter or 'Merseyside Police Contact Centre' on Facebook.

Always call 999 in an emergency.

More information and advice is available at the following websites:

https://www.talktofrank.com/news/spiking

https://www.merseyside.police.uk/cp/crime-prevention/protect-yourself-from-crime/spiked-drinks-date-rape-drugs/

For women who have felt or feel unsafe in public spaces the Home Office has set up a pilot service (StreetSafe | Police.uk (www.police.uk)  for anyone to anonymously report public places where they have felt or feel unsafe, because of environmental issues, eg street lighting, abandoned buildings or vandalism and/or because of some behaviours, eg being followed or verbally abused.

Please note: 'StreetSafe' is not for reporting crime or incidents.

If something has happened to you or someone you know (including in public spaces online) you can call us on 101 or find out what online reporting services are available at StreetSafe | Police.uk (www.police.uk)