Drink spiking isn't just a girls problem

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 19th Aug 2022

What a relief to be writing this column in Edinburgh rather than London this week as the Westminster parliament is in recess until 5th September. Recess is a great opportunity for me to spend a good long chunk of time in my Edinburgh South West constituency rather than just the Fridays and weekends which I manage while parliament is sitting. Like many of my colleagues, I have been using the time to visit community groups, faith groups, small businesses, and charities to see how they are faring in these post pandemic times.  

As part of this work, earlier this month, I hosted an online workshop to help local organisations find out about the funding opportunities available from the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Times have been very tough for charities over the last few years and are set to be difficult for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has put a very real strain on good causes. Now, with the cost-of-living crisis, securing funding is even more essential than usual. The People’s Postcode Lottery has raised over £900 million for good causes, and they make a real effort to engage with parliamentarians to help ensure organisations in our constituencies knows what this allows them to offer. The significant appetite for funding opportunities was illustrated by very high attendance at the workshop I hosted and quite a few organisations from outside the constituency joined us. At the end I stayed on the zoom call to chat with some of the local groups and those further afield.

One of the people I met was Colin Mackie, an SNP activist and Yesser, who runs a charity called Spike Aware. It’s a UK wide charity based in the small village of Elvanfoot in South Lanarkshire and founded by Colin and his wife after tragedy struck their family in 2017 when their 18 year old son, Greg, was found dead in Halls of Residence at Edinburgh College. Greg was studying for a career in Film and TV media. There are good grounds for suspicion that what killed Greg was a noxious substance put in his soft drink by a third party, although the authorities have never been able to secure enough evidence for a conviction.

At the time of Greg’s death, Colin and his wife found that there was no one to turn to and no one to answer their questions. They decided that they didn’t want anyone to go through what they were enduring and to set up a charity to highlight the dangers of the growing problem of drink and needle spiking.  

Spike Aware UK became a recognised charity as of the 15th of August 2018. They have raised funds to produce flyers and information about the risk of Spiking, protective bottle lids and glass covers, and information Beer Mats for distribution around Universities, Colleges, Nightclubs and Pubs to raise greater awareness and combat the problem. When I touched base with Colin earlier this week, he and his volunteers were busy distributing information and anti-spiking kits at fresher events in Glasgow. They have also been on the streets with Police Scotland and attended events like the recent YouthBeatz in Dumfries. They do regular presentations for High School and College Students.

Greg’s death attracted a lot of media attention and many newspapers have covered the story. Colin’s campaign has also been a topic on both BBC and STV, including the Victoria Derbyshire Show, The Nine Show, Kaye Adams and various regional news programmes across the UK. Colin has also been interviewed by an Australian radio station and recently had media interest from Spanish TV.

As well as raising awareness and helping people, particularly young people, protect themselves from drink and needle spiking, Colin and his volunteers are also campaigning to make Spiking a stand-alone offence. At present spiking attacks are usually only prosecuted if they are linked to another recognised criminal offence such as sexual assault or theft. Stand-alone convictions would help raise awareness as well as acting as a deterrent. Colin wants people to look upon Spiking in the same way as they do Drink Driving, to realise it’s not just a prank and that it can, and does, cost lives.

Colin also wants people to understand that while most victims of a drink or needle spiking attack are young females in their late teens or early twenties, any one of us can be a victim of drink or needle spiking regardless of our sex or age. Media portrayals of it being a “girls’ problem” can put boys off reporting it. In fact, most attacks go unreported, often because the victims have been drinking alcohol and are fearful of not being believed or stigmatised. In April 2022, a UK Government report into Spiking by the Home Office revealed that 75% of victims did not report the attack, through fear of not being believed.

There is also the problem that often the victims cannot recall the detail of what happened to them. Yet, most young people are aware of this issue and live with the fear of an attack when they are out socialising. So, advice and kits to lessen the risk are very welcome.

Meetings have been held with cross party parliamentarians in both Holyrood and Westminster. SNP politicians have listened, but Colin was disappointed not to succeed in getting a motion about the issue accepted onto the provisional agenda for SNP conference. However, he was delighted when his union USDAW supported a similar motion calling for heightened awareness and a stand-alone offence. A private member’s bill was introduced at Westminster but failed for lack of time. It is understood that the Home Office are reviewing the matter for potential changes to the law in England and Wales.

In a week when the behaviour of a very small minority of protestors outside the Tory leadership hustings in Perth has been used as a stick to beat the entire Yes movement, Colin’s story is a good illustration of the sort of community work in which the people who will build momentum to Yes engage. Out of personal tragedy he and his wife have built a campaigning charity which is really making a difference. It is this sort of spirit that will win independence for Scotland, hard work born out of love and compassion, not hate.  I have found Colin’s story inspirational, and I hope readers will too. 

Joanna Cherry KC MP

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