'It happens to so many girls': LBC joins Met police officers on the frontline of Britain's spiking epidemic

15 May 2024, 14:11

LBC's Charlotte Lynch spent a shift with the Met in Soho
LBC's Charlotte Lynch spent a shift with the Met in Soho. Picture: LBC
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

On the frontline of Britain's spiking epidemic, LBC's Charlotte Lynch reports on how predators are hiding in plain sight, and finding terrifying new ways to target victims.

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They look like two mere 'bobbies on the beat', but it's their job to spot the predators amongst the lairy crowds spilling out of the pubs and bars of London's West End.

It's Friday night in Soho. It's almost 11pm on what has been one of the hottest days of the year so far. We walk past a packed pub that resembles a Victoria Line train in rush hour - except everyone's belting out songs, pint glasses in the air.

The queue for the club opposite is heaving, and music is blaring from another. Hen and stag parties stumble out of the bars, and the smoking areas are full to bursting with people shouting over the noise. Bright pink, purple, green and yellow cycle pedicabs are lining the streets, each with their own flashing neon lights, a boom box, and a driver ready to go.

In the middle of it all, Sergeant Carl Gore and PC John Redmond are on the lookout for danger.

"We're on Operation Vigilant", Sgt Gore tells me. "We're taking proactive stops of individuals that are displaying concerning behaviour".

They're looking for anyone acting "suspiciously or nervously" towards women and girls, to prevent sexual violence by targeting those seeking to prey on vulnerable people.

Tonight, they're focusing on the underreported crime of spiking, after the force revealed more than 100 different drugs are being put in to people's drinks without them knowing. It remains a growing threat, and one that's extremely difficult to get a grip on.

In practice, Operation Vigilant is simple. Sgt Gore and PC Redmond, along with three other teams of two, walk up and down the busy streets of Soho and make sure everyone is enjoying themselves safely. They're highly visible, which is deliberate, so potential offenders know they're being watched.

But amongst the crowds are undercover officers who're specially trained in body language. It's their job is to catch those lying in wait for the uniformed cops to disappear from view. It's not long before one of them radios through to us.

"They've seen this individual follow three drunk females", PC Redmond tells me as he puts on blue forensic gloves. They begin searching their suspect - it's one of the pedicab drivers.

"He allegedly was honking the horn, enticing them to get in to the cab. He circled around and approached the drunkest female of the group and tried to get her on to the bike. He kept honking the horn and talking to her".

"This area is known for spiking, so we issued a Section 23 Misuse of Drugs Act search to ascertain whether he had drugs on him to assist him with spiking", PC Redmond explained.

Thankfully, no substance was found, but their suspect immediately left the area. They can't be sure, but the officers potentially prevented something very serious.

Last week, on the same patrol, the officers were called to reports of a serious sexual assault in a Soho bar. They attended within four minutes and spoke to the victim, and two days later, the suspect had been charged and remanded in custody at court. It's clear Operation Vigilant works.

But women I spoke to on the night out still didn't feel confident in the police's ability to keep them safe.

"It happens to so many girls", says Leah, who's on a night out with her friend Caitlin. She says it's reassuring to know the police are on patrol, but still wouldn't report it if she was spiked.

"It happens so, so much to so many girls and it doesn't get reported enough. But nothing is really being done about it, it's still going on now. If people are continuing to do it then obviously not a lot has worked", she tells me.

"Before, when it was a big thing, there were more bag searches and pat downs but where's that gone? That's stopped now", says Caitlin.

She's referring to the post-Covid boom in reports of spiking, with the new phenomenon of needle spiking causing terror to girls up and down the country.

An average of 114 spiking allegations are now made in London every month, with 65% of offences occurring at night.

60% of victims are female, the Metropolitan Police said, with perpetrators going on to commit burglary, robbery and sexual assault.

Officers say predators are finding new ways to target victims, and are warning that vapes are now being spiked, with e-cigs laced with cannabis and spice given to unknowing partygoers.

"That happened to a girl I know", says Leah. She tells me she "completely blacked out" after smoking a vape she didn't know had cannabis inside.

Another woman, Niamh, tells me she was vape-spiked in Mexico.

"Someone gave me their vape and it turns out it was a cannabis pen. I didn't know that when they gave that to me. It wasn't a good time afterwards... apparently you can buy them quite freely in Mexico".

But Niamh agrees she still wouldn't report spiking to the police, saying "people accuse you of drinking too much. You're interrogated and you're shamed - you're made to feel like you're a woman that can't handle their drink".

Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Craggs, from the Met’s public protection team, said: “Anyone enjoying a night out in London deserves to be safe and we’re determined to do everything we can protect the people from harm.

“Spiking is a premeditated and invasive crime and we are doing more to target predatory and dangerous offenders.

“We cannot tackle spiking alone and that’s why we’re working closely with charities, venues and businesses across London and beyond – training nightclub staff to spot the signs of spiking and helping to raise awareness with those who visit pubs and clubs.

“Our message to victims is clear – please come forward and get the support you rightly deserve from our specially trained officers.”