The Government said it will not create a specific offence for spiking – despite committing last year to look at new legislation.
Home Office minister Sarah Dines said a new law is “unnecessary” because there are “already several offences which cover incidents of spiking” and the Government has not found “any gap in the law that a new spiking offence would fill”.
The minister confirmed the Government’s position in a letter to Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, written in December but published by the committee on Wednesday.
She also said the Government plans to consult on the potential changing of statutory guidance to include “explicit reference to spiking being illegal and give examples of such spiking”.
The committee previously said a specific spiking offence would have “several benefits”, including increasing reporting of incidents, facilitating police work by improving data and “sending a clear message to perpetrators that this is a serious crime”.
Miss Dines said the Government carefully considered the case for legislation.
But she said: “We have concluded that there are already several offences which cover incidents of spiking and we have not found any gap in the law that a new spiking offence would fill.
“We have therefore concluded that a new offence is not required and will not be bringing in new legislation.”
She continued: “The existing offences cover all methods of spiking, including by drink, needle, vape, cigarette, food or any other known form.
“Police are yet to encounter a case where they could not apply an existing offence.”
Miss Dines added: “Introducing a new specific spiking offence would not capture any new criminal behaviour, it would not reduce the evidential burden to prosecute such offences, it would not increase the sentencing powers available to judges in such cases and it would not increase the likelihood of charging or prosecuting an offender for spiking offences.
“We therefore concluded that a new offence is unnecessary and the Government’s focus should remain on non-legislative measures to tackle spiking.”
But the letter does say the Home Office said it will be undertaking a consultation on amending the Licensing Act 2003 so the guidance “could include explicit reference to spiking, providing a government definition of the crime, highlighting the existing offences which can be used to prosecute incidents of spiking, including examples of spiking and providing signposting to resources for venues”.
The minister said the change “could also allow the Government to direct local licensing authorities to send a strong and explicit message that ‘no matter how you spike someone – whether it is by a drink, needle, food, cigarette or vape – it is against the law’”.
Priti Patel told the Home Affairs Committee in February last year, when she was home secretary, the Government was looking into making spiking a specific offence.
She told the committee then that she had asked her officials to look at “how we can – and you’ll know that there are already a list of offences in terms of drugs that can be applied – but how we can prepare a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly”.
“So we are looking into this, absolutely, so we are working towards that, but it doesn’t mean tomorrow,” she said, adding: “We still have to understand the genesis, the details, the evidential base, also the prevalence of this too.”
Later that month, Kit Malthouse, then a Home Office minister, said the Government was “exploring the need for a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly”.
The National Police Chiefs Council said at the end of last year almost 5,000 cases of needle and drink spiking incidents were reported to police over 12 months.
Conservative MP Richard Graham, who has previously called for a specific spiking offence, addressed the Government’s response in a Westminster Hall debate on the issue, saying “in almost 13 years as an MP I have not read such an extraordinary letter”.
He called for the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to be amended to make spiking a “named legal offence” and said the letter “puts up various straw man arguments”.
“This could be the Government and the Parliament that makes spiking completely illegal for the first time. That is what other ministers understood, I believe, and I now call on ministers of the Home Office today to finish the job,” he said.
Elsewhere in the debate, Ms Patel also called for existing legislation to be amended.
“As a Government there has to be a coherent approach that is taken in terms of how to address spiking, and also the criminalisation, through law, through amendments to existing legislation, we do not need to reinvent the wheel here folks,” she said.
Dame Diana said: “I am very disappointed that the Government are not going to accept the arguments around a new specific offence, as the Government say there is sufficient legislation on the statute books already. But this is clearly not working, it’s not being used. Reporting is low, and prosecution rates are very rare indeed.”
Labour shadow Home Office minister Sarah Jones said: “We should call a spade a spade in this case and introduce a specific offence for spiking.”
Home Office minister Tom Tugendhat gave hope to campaigners that the Government could be open to revisiting the issue, suggesting he would take away the suggestion of amending existing legislation for further consideration by the relevant minister.
“There is clearly more that has come out today. There is clearly a strength of feeling in this House and a voice that is coming from so many parts of this chamber that I think do require listening to,” he said.
But when asked by Dame Diana to clarify whether he was moving away from the Government position that there will be no change to the law, Mr Tugendhat said the Government’s position was that Miss Dines has “written very clearly to the honourable lady” but that new ideas should be responded to.