Food and drink spiking incidents – which includes some cases where victims’ lives have been put in danger through poisoning – have tripled across South Yorkshire in the last three years, shock figures reveal.
Data obtained by The Star under the Freedom of Information Act showed there were 82 reported crimes where food and drink had been tampered with drugs or alcohol between January 2015 and December 2017.
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There are a wide range of offences attached to the act of spiking, including three incidents of 'administering poison so as to endanger life', and 32 reports of sexual assaults on men, women and children.
The crime is also on the rise as incidents have gone up each year with 39 in 2017, up from 30 in 2016 and 13 the year before that.
The FOI response does not state where the reported incidents took place within South Yorkshire and there is no suggestion that they happened on either of the city's two university campuses.
But as thousands of students have recently returned to campus following the summer break – and with many freshers starting courses for the first time – both Sheffield universities have described how they have done a lot of prevention work in a bid to reduce drink spiking incidents.
In a joint statement, the University and Hallam said: “All bars at both universities provide free bottle stoppers (Spikeys), which help prevent drink tampering.
“Our venues display information and advice about the dangers of drink spiking and common signs and symptoms to be aware of.”
They added that staff at university bars have been given training through the Best Bar None scheme to help them identify victims.
There is also help and advice on their websites and first aid is offered to anyone who is in distress.
Meera Kulkarni, chief executive of the Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, said cases where someone has had their drink spiked before being sexually assaulted are on the whole rare, but they do still provide support to victims.
A campaign was launched last year aimed at supporting the act of safe dating and to tackle sexual harassment in pubs, bars and clubs.
‘Ask For Angela’ encourages people to discreetly ask for help from bar staff if they are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.
Staff can then help by taking someone aside to speak in confidence, calling someone a taxi, or asking the person causing distress to leave.
Sheffield Council indicated the increase in incidents is down to better reporting thanks to scheme such as this, the Best Bar None and Purple Flag that encourage a safe night out.
Greg Fell, director of public health at Sheffield Council, said the authority is “doing all we can” to ensure people enjoy a safe night out through the Sheffield Alcohol Strategy.
He urged people to always be aware of where their drink is, to “get rid of it” if it has been compromised and to report people acting suspiciously.
Superintendent Paul McCurry, of Sheffield Police, said: “The rise in reported incidents of drink spiking can be attributed to several different factors, not limited to an increased public awareness of this type of crime. We also work very hard in partnership with the NHS and other health agencies to monitor this type of issue and ensure incidents of this type are recorded.
“Even though there has been a rise in reports, it is important to understand that not all of those incidents will be confirmed as drink spiking.”
“Our advice to the public who are concerned about drink spiking would be to never leave your drink unattended, and if you believe your drink has been spiked notify your friends and/or premises staff immediately so that you can receive medical attention.”