SIAN BOYLE investigates victims injected with drugs in clubs and bars

Spike in fear stalking so many women: Scores say they have been injected with drugs in clubs and bars, spiking victim SIAN BOYLE went back to campus to investigate… and her findings are deeply disturbing

THE last things I remember are the bright overhead bulbs of the basement bar, the booming music and the confidence of the men who’d just joined our group, one with his arm around my shoulders — and his hand hovering very close to my drink.

It was 2009 and I was a 19-year-old fresher at Nottingham University. A few moments later, not long after sipping some of my second drink of the evening, there was nothing but darkness and eerie silence.

I opened my eyes to find myself fully clothed, sitting in a locked cubicle in the ladies’ loos. I have never had a more disorientating experience than opening that cubicle door. All the evidence of a raucous club night was around me, from pieces of toilet paper on the floor to make-up smeared on the mirrors. But the people were gone.

I staggered to the front door, startling the three staff members who were on their way out and locking up. To the weary staff, I was a nuisance — another girl who’d drunk too much and passed out. ‘I’m not drunk,’ I tried to protest, but I slurred as the words wouldn’t form.

THE last things I remember are the bright overhead bulbs of the basement bar, the booming music and the confidence of the men who’d just joined our group

They bundled me out of the door and it was then that I blacked out again. I’d been spiked.

No wonder I felt nauseous to read this week that not only does the practice of spiking — surreptitiously intoxicating someone — seem to have resurfaced with a vengeance in my old university town and across the country, but that the perpetrators are now said to be injecting their victims with needles.

In recent days, terrifying reports have emerged of an ‘epidemic’ of young female university students being stabbed with syringes and drugged against their will. The new crime raises the spectre of not only being drugged, rendered unconscious and robbed or raped, but also contracting blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

It also makes traditional methods to protect against ‘date rape’ — such as covering one’s drink — completely irrelevant. Several police forces are investigating and say ‘it’s distinctly different’ to anything they’ve seen before.

So what is the truth? Can there really be an epidemic of date-rapists injecting girls with drugs on dancefloors to sexually assault them? Or could this merely be an alarming scare story that started with unverifiable claims on social media and which has needlessly terrified thousands of young women?

Certainly, the scale of allegations is remarkable. In the student towns of Nottingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle, young women and at least one man have alleged injection attacks. Police Scotland has meanwhile confirmed it is investigating reports of apparently unconnected attacks in Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow.

More familiar spiking, such as slipping a drug into someone’s drink, is also on the rise with police in Northern Ireland, Devon and Cornwall warning of girls being targeted at house parties.

Only yesterday, a man was sentenced to seven years in prison for spiking a 19-year-old girl’s drink with cocaine before sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious, and later robbing her of her savings. Police said the incident, which took place in Hull in 2019, was ‘truly shocking’.

The current spiking problem has come at a time of heightened tensions about women’s safety, after details of the murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a police officer appalled the nation this year and groups such as Reclaim the Streets have called for far greater focus on women’s safety in public spaces.

It was 2009 and I was a 19-year-old fresher at Nottingham University. A few moments later, not long after sipping some of my second drink of the evening, there was nothing but darkness and eerie silence

Clearly, spiking people by slipping drugs into their drinks is a longstanding problem. Over half of students say they know someone who has been drugged on a night out. 

A recent survey for student website The Tab found that 12,000 of 23,000 respondents said they knew an alleged spiking victim, while at least 2,600 had been targeted themselves.

The alleged epicentre is Nottingham, where multiple disturbing allegations of needle-spiking have emerged this week and a Nottinghamshire Police source said the force had been ‘inundated’ with reports of needle spikings.

In total, the local police have received 47 reports of all spikings (including drugs slipped into drinks and injections) since September 4, of which 15 are allegations of ‘spiking by something sharp as opposed to a traditional method of contaminated alcoholic drinks’ since October 2.

That date closely coincides with the new intake of first-year freshers arriving at the town’s two universities, the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent. Nevertheless, many remain sceptical of the spiking-by-syringe claims and insist it is all simply a panic whipped up by social media.

Experts have also cast doubt on how anyone could inject someone without their knowledge.

‘Few [date-rape] drugs would be able to be injected,’ Guy Jones, senior scientist at drugs charity the Loop, told the youth-orientated media company Vice this week. ‘Where drugs can be injected non-intravenously [into muscle instead of a blood vessel], there are specific injection sites that do not work well.’

Other experts pointed out that injecting someone with drugs to render them unconscious would require a large, painful needle, a large amount of the drug to inject, or drugs that would remain in the victim’s system for days.

David Caldicott, an emergency medicine consultant and founder of drug testing project WEDINOS, told Vice: ‘The technical and medical knowledge required to perform this would make this deeply improbable. It is at the level of a state-sponsored actor incapacitating a dissident.

‘The idea that a clubber would do this to a fellow clubber seems highly unlikely to me. It’s really hard to stick a needle in someone without them noticing, especially if you have to keep the needle in there for long enough, maybe 20 seconds, to inject enough drugs to cause this.

‘If you were malicious there would be half a dozen much easier other ways to spike someone [such as putting drugs in their drinks].’

However, one professor at a leading medical school told the Daily Mail: ‘It is possible to inject someone with a single click, and that is how some drugs are routinely administered. It would need to be a pre-filled device which is spring-loaded.’

In a date rape scenario, the professor went on, ‘it would need to be a calculated dose, and the drug would need to work fast from a subcutaneous administration’.

To find out the truth, I revisited Nottingham, my old student haunt, for a night on the town.

I arrived sceptical that needle-spiking was anywhere near as prevalent as has been claimed this week, and that finding victims would be a wild goose chase. How wrong I was.

Wednesday is one of the city’s most popular student nights and the centre is teeming — but it soon becomes evident that many people are frightened.

I head to The Cell — which calls itself ‘Nottingham’s most exclusive student night’ and where people have warned on Google reviews about spiking incidents that could either be drugs slipped into someone’s drink or from injection. ‘Experienced people trying to spike my friends — club has a serious problem with it,’ wrote a patron called Toby Withers. Another message read: ‘Got spiked!! Do not go to this club. It is very well known for people getting spiked and I was very ill from it.’

In the ladies’ loo, I meet Daisy, 19, a student at the University of Nottingham who tells me her course-mate Olivia* was spiked last week in Pryzm — the club that has made national headlines for the high concentration of alleged needle stabbings on its premises in the space of just a few days.

‘She got pushed over, and that’s how they got the needle in,’ Daisy told me.

She added: ‘It’s one thing getting spiked, then you add an HIV risk on top of that.’ In response to the claims this week and in particular a social media scare that one woman had tested positive for HIV shortly after a needle injury, the National Aids Trust stated that ‘getting HIV from a needle injury is extremely rare. A diagnosis takes weeks. Our thoughts with those worried by spiking’.

With a feeling of trepidation, I head to Pryzm. Before I enter, staff check my bag and I’m made to walk through a metal detector arch. In the smoking area I meet Charlotte, 19, a first-year student who tells me about a night out in October in which two of her friends were allegedly spiked by injection at Rock City.

‘I’ve been friends with Katy* since secondary school. She couldn’t stand up, so we got her out of the club, and then she got worse so we took her to A&E. There, they said she had a high level of ketamine in her . . . She was OK in the end but she had a mark on her hand the next day.’

My stomach churns when I hear what happened to Sophie*, 20. ‘We lost her on the night out,’ says Charlotte. ‘She got raped. She woke up in this boy’s accommodation, she doesn’t think he actually lived there. The day afterwards, they collected a swab and they found semen but apparently there was no match [on the UK National DNA Database].

‘She had ketamine [a veterinary tranquilliser and recreational drug] in her blood and a scratch mark on her back. Neither of them go out any more.’

Charlotte says hospital staff told her friends that they had seen a number of girls admitted who had been drugged against their will with ketamine and Rohypnol since freshers’ week.

And there are even more girls I speak to, all with similar stories. Nottingham University student Ruby tells me her 18-year-old friend ‘was spiked in [the Nottingham nightclub] Stealth. She’s getting blood tests as we speak’.

Another tells me her friend, a Nottingham Trent student was at a night out in Vauxhall, central London, ‘and her drink got spiked with powder. He took her down an alleyway and then to a Travelodge’.

I finish the night in Pryzm by speaking to Hannah, a baby-faced 18-year-old fresher. She tells me that she’s ‘scared’ and is just trying to enjoy her first year of university. I left the club, feeling distinctly unsafe there as a lone woman, and returned to my hotel.

The next morning, I was horrified when Hannah contacted me to say that her friend Lucy* had apparently been spiked in the club the previous night, just yards from where Hannah and I had been sitting in the smoking area.

Hannah told me that Lucy, 20, a first-year student, was now lying on a ward in the Queen’s Medical Centre hospital.

She said: ‘[Lucy] was with this guy who she met in Pryzm. They kept going off together and dancing, so we don’t know what exactly happened. At one point in the night we found her, she was crying and saying her back really hurt, she felt like something was crawling all over her back and she needed to get it off. We moved her hair and saw what looked like two injection marks in her back.’

Hannah went on: ‘Lucy kept being sick. She couldn’t breathe, she was crying. We managed to get her in a taxi, but when we got her back to the halls, it was extremely hard to get her into her room, she was screaming and shaking. She kept saying “something’s on my back”. We managed to get her changed and that’s when we saw that there definitely were marks in the middle of her upper back.

‘They were deep holes, small and deep. They were red. And she’d had a reaction as well, so there was red around them spreading, like it was inflamed.

‘It seems like her body had reacted to whatever it was she was injected with. Soon all she wanted to do is sleep, which makes me think it was a date-rape [drug].’

Hannah and her friends called an ambulance which arrived two hours later. The paramedics said Lucy’s heart rate was double what it should be and her blood pressure was irregular. She was taken to hospital at 4.30am.

‘This morning we had confirmation [from the hospital] that she had been spiked. And that it was two injections. She is still there now being monitored.’

Lucy’s parents are aware and the Mail has reported the incident to Nottinghamshire Police, but the force said it could not confirm the incident without a formal report from the victim or her friends.

The Mail contacted Pryzm, Rock City and The Cell multiple times by phone and email but did not receive a reply.

Stealth nightclub said in a statement: ‘We take all reports of this nature very seriously and will continue to do our utmost to protect our customers’ welfare. Our security will be carrying out an increased number of enhanced searches on entry.’

Lucy, Olivia, Katy and Sophie join the roll call of alleged spiking victims this week, including 19-year-olds Sarah Buckle, who says she was injected in her hand at a Nottingham club, and Zara Owen who alleges she was stabbed in her thigh ‘through thick denim jeans’ at Pryzm.

Over the next fortnight, student groups from dozens of cities including Nottingham, Edinburgh and Bournemouth are holding a boycott of nightclubs under the banner Girls Night In, with the aim of improving venue security and staff training.

The campaign began in Southampton last night and will spread across 43 university towns and cities. An online petition to ‘make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry’ has reached almost 160,000 signatures, which means that MPs will be required to debate it in Parliament.

Last night the National Police Chief’s Council revealed there were 24 confirmed reports made to police forces around the country of spiking by ‘some form of injection’, and 140 of drink spiking, across September and October.

In 2009, the morning after my own my dorm room. I knew instinctively I had not been sexually assaulted, nor had I been robbed, and therefore — naively — did not report the incident.

I told myself that ‘these things happen’ and moved on, considering myself to have had a lucky escape. But today thousands of young women are living in fear amid these horrifying new claims — and we urgently need to know the truth.

*Some names have been changed to protect identities.

A UNIVERSITY fresher told yesterday how she and two friends were all spiked with a needle on the same night out.

Kacey Edgar-Hedges, 18, said she felt a ‘sting’ on her right arm while dancing at a nightclub on Wednesday.

She paid little attention to the incident at the Fiction venue in Swansea at first, until one of her friends became ill and was taken to hospital.

Kacey Edgar-Hedges, 18, said she felt a ‘sting’ on her right arm while dancing at a nightclub on Wednesday

When Miss Edgar-Hedges and a second friend then went to leave, she became aware of her arm throbbing. She added: ‘Then all of a sudden I couldn’t feel my arms at all and I felt really drowsy. My eyes began rolling to the back of my head.’

She realised her friend was also struggling and other friends called a taxi to take them to hospital. Her aunt Paula Williams, 39, told the Daily Mail the police believed the Class B drug ketamine had been used, although they are still waiting for test results.

Miss Edgar-Hedges said yesterday: ‘I’d literally only read the first reports of needles being used a day before it happened to me. It’s really worrying.’ While she and one of her friends believe they were spiked in the club, the first to go to hospital thinks she was spiked in a bar she had been to before joining them.

South Wales Police said a ‘small number’ of cases were under investigation.

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