Hannah Cartwright, 24, says she was spiked by injection on a night out in Bristol on 14 November. She shares her experience exclusively with Stylist.
Reports of “physical spiking” – spiking by injection – continue to rise in nightclubs and bars across the UK.
According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), a total of 274 spiking incidents involving “some form of injection” have been reported to forces in the last two months.
The increase has prompted widespread boycotts and calls for action over the last few months, as many victims have taken to social media to share their experiences of being spiked.
Deputy Chief Constable Jason Harwin, the NPCC’s lead for drugs, told the Independent: “We are continuing to gather responses from all forces across the UK in relation to incidents involving some form of injection, with a total of 274 reports confirmed from the start of September into November.
“Police forces are investigating incidents and continue to work with pubs and clubs to increase searches and guidance to staff.”
Hannah Cartwright, 24, from Buckinghamshire, says that she was spiked by injection while at Lola Lo nightclub in Bristol in the early hours of Sunday 14 November.
She had attended a Bristol Bears rugby club social with her boyfriend before they and around 10 others headed to Lola Lo, on Bristol’s Queens Road. “There was a big group of us and we all stuck together, so it wasn’t like I got separated,” Hannah told Stylist. “It’s quite a small club, with a bar and a little dance floor area and all of us were just mixing between the two. I had way less to drink than I usually would, maybe three drinks at the social before and two drinks at the club.
“They were actually serving their drinks with covers over them, making a conscious effort because of all the reports of spiking going around.”
Hannah says she felt fine throughout the evening, and left the club with her boyfriend around 2am to head home. “I remember everything as crystal clear until a certain point. I actually had a conversation with a girl in the queue for food about all the fucked up things that were happening.”
However, as she started to walk home with her partner, Hannah says that she suddenly felt extremely drowsy and tired. “I remember thinking: ‘This walk is so long, I just want to get home,’ even though it wasn’t.”
“I don’t remember anything after that, but my boyfriend told me I stopped talking completely and that he gave me some food and took my make-up off for me. Then I passed out on his bed.”
When Hannah awoke around midday the next day, she couldn’t remember getting home. “I just woke up, like: ‘What happened?’ I know I wasn’t even that drunk, so it was confusing. My boyfriend started asking me if I thought I’d had my drink spiked, but I thought surely not.”
Hannah’s leg was also throbbing and bruised, but on closer inspection, she could see a small “raised white and red mark” inside the bruise. She says that every day since the bruise has got darker and the mark inside more obvious.
“I called 111 as soon as I noticed the needle mark and they told me to head to A&E within half an hour. I went to Bristol Royal Infirmary emergency department and there was about a six-hour wait, but I had my bloods taken. They’d told me that from what I described, it sounded like some of the other injection spiking cases they’d dealt with.”
Hannah later reported the incident to Avon and Somerset Police and contacted Lola Lo, the club where she believes she was spiked, to inform them.
In a statement, Avon and Somerset Police told Stylist: “We have received a report of a suspected spiking by injection incident at Lola Lo nightclub, in Queens Road, Clifton. A female, in her 20s, attended the venue for a couple of hours from approximately 12.30am on Sunday 14 November.
“Waking up later that same day she noticed a mark and bruise consistent with a needle prick and went for medical treatment. Anyone with information about what happened, or experienced a similar incident at that venue that night, is asked to call 101 and give the call-handler reference number 5221269466.”
Because the spiking took place in Bristol, and Hannah lives in Buckinghamshire, she says that the investigation so far has been complicated. “The police have been really helpful when they can, but they’re just so busy.”
When the police took Hannah’s full statement, on Thursday 18 November, they asked her why the hospital hadn’t given her any further tests in addition to the bloods they took. “The police explained that A&E should have taken a urine sample, but by the time the police saw me and told me it was too late for a sample to be taken. They wanted to test for the presence of alcohol, GHB, ketamine and rohypnol, but I’d missed most of the window for them showing up, which was frustrating.” This meant they were unable to test for exactly what substance Hannah may have been injected with.
Hannah explains that she had assumed the hospital was testing to find out what substance she had been injected with, but they checked her blood pressure and vitals. “They said that they couldn’t actually test me for the drug that may have been used. The nurses told me they were so sorry that it had happened to me, and explained that I wouldn’t be able to be tested for HIV or hepatitis B for at least six weeks, as they wouldn’t show up in my blood.” Stylist has contacted University Hospitals Bristol for a statement.
The aftermath of being spiked by injection
In the days following the spiking, Hannah felt drained, lethargic and was vomiting regularly. Now, while her body has physically recovered from the incident, she says her mental wellbeing has been deeply affected.
“It’s made me much more apprehensive about going out,” she says. “I’ve cancelled plans I had for the rest of the month, or asked them to be changed to a bar because I don’t want to go to a club again.”
“Before I was spiked, I’d heard so many stories about girls going through it and had been posting them on my Instagram account to raise awareness about it. I was saying to everyone: ‘This is so messed up,’ but then I didn’t think it could ever happen to me.”
“I’ve always felt safest when I’m out with my boyfriend and a big group, which I was that night. I always feel protected but this happened to me even when I was. It feels like there’s nothing you can do to prevent it besides just not going out.”
Hannah advises anyone who thinks they may have been spiked, by injection or drink, to try their best not to panic.
“I know it’s hard but you’re just going to make yourself more anxious. It’s important to remember that it’s not your fault and that you haven’t done anything wrong. And if you’re with other people, it’s not their fault either. I don’t want my boyfriend or friends to think there’s anything more they could have done to stop it.”
Hannah also says that while questions by the police about what she was wearing and how much she’d drank were hard to hear, she understands why it’s important – at least on this occasion – for them to have asked.
“It’s just about trying to remember that these people are there to help you. So when they were asking what I was wearing and how short my dress was, they were just trying to understand the length in relation to where the needle mark is.
“But through it all, make sure you reach out for support, from the police and family and friends. I wanted to share my story because I don’t know anyone else that it’s happened to, and I just felt really alone.”
How clubs are trying to tackle the spiking crisis
While there are prevention measures being taken, like an announcement earlier this month that drink spiking test kits are set to be rolled out across police stations and dozens of night-time venues in Bristol as part of a trial, Hannah says that more needs to be done across the UK.
“It’s obviously not working. Club staff as well as the police and hospitals just haven’t been trained in what to do in these situations. I think they need to be trained to tell people exactly how to respond to being spiked by injection and the exact steps they need to take, like go and get a blood test and urine samples, not just your vitals.”
Hannah says that she feels lucky that she got home safe, and knows she was never left alone. “I had someone who could tell me what happened, rather than waking up not knowing where you’d been. But it was so scary feeling out of control.”
Lola Lo Bristol confirmed to Stylist that they had been working with the police on this case, writing in a statement: “As a responsible and accountable operator of night-time entertainment venues and part of a publicly listed company, Eclectic has always made every possible effort to ensure the safety and well-being of our customers and staff. The current concerns regarding the spiking of drinks and the possibility of incidents involving syringes has brought to the fore the need for increased awareness of safety issues by nightclub owners.
“We will also be revisiting staff training on how to prevent serving drinks to customers who may already be intoxicated, as well as providing refresher training on our own safety charter, the ‘Ask for Angela’ initiative and the Safer Sounds Partnership’s Welfare and Vulnerability Engagement scheme.
“In addition to these measures specifically related to drink spiking, we will continue our policy in all venues of scanning and searching all customers as they enter the premises to alleviate the possibility of syringes being brought onto the premises.
“Our venues have always provided designated safe spaces for the use of those who inform our staff that they are uncomfortable or feel vulnerable. Our security staff are trained to ensure that these customers do not leave the premises with an inappropriate person.”
What to do if you’ve been spiked
Avon and Somerset Police stress the importance of informing the police as soon as possible by calling 101 after a suspected spiking, or dialling 999 in an emergency. Drugs can leave the body in as little as 12 hours after consumption so it’s important you receive help and get tested quickly.
According to Drinkaware, common symptoms of drink spiking include: loss of balance, feeling sleepy, visual problems, vomiting and unconsciousness.
With physical spiking, many victims like Hannah have reported pain, bruising and a visible ‘puncture’ mark at the sight of the injection, as well as feelings of lethargy and unconsciousness, though there is not yet enough research to provide official symptoms.
If you suspect that someone has been spiked, Drinkaware’s advice is to immediately notify people you trust, as well as a bar manager, bouncer or member of staff.
They should then call an ambulance and help you seek further treatment, including being taken to an Accident and Emergency department where they will then conduct urine and blood tests to identify the drugs in your system.
Victim Support offers free and confidential advice for victims of any crime. If you are concerned that you may have been assaulted, Rape Crisis provides a helpline and advice for victims of sexual harassment and assault.
Images: Hannah Cartwright