Sacha Lord, founder of Manchester’s Parklife festival, has written to the home secretary, Suella Braverman, in protest of the government’s recent U-turn in regards to on site drug testing at festivals.
Longstanding drug checking charity The Loop were recently told that they needed to apply for a special licence 48 hours before they were due to commence drug testing at Parklife Festival.
On June 8, the Home Office announced that on-site drugs testing at festivals required a Controlled Drugs Licence and for testing to occur at named, permanent premises rather than pop up tents or festival sites.
Licences can take up to 16 weeks to be approved, and The Loop could not host the service at this year’s festival, marking the first time in 10 years.
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Such drug checking services have been found to increase the safety and wellbeing of festival goers, as drugs can be tested without prosecution or judgement. Front-of-house testing services, as offered by The Loop across prior to the pandemic, allowed attendees to submit their own drugs for testing and receive tailored results back.
Though such personalised strands of drug checking are no longer available, back-of-house testing has been proven just as effective. If an unknown substance was identified, or a dangerously high dose of a drug was found in a tested item, a push notification would be sent to all festival goers, warning them to steer clear of the drug.
These operate on a “cross-agency basis”, which means information about the circulation of dangerous substances can be passed between nearby festivals, police services and medical services. This makes the treatment provided by medical professionals when dealing with drug-related incidents much more effective as they will already be aware of the drugs chemical composition.
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Larger festivals are able to employ private companies to carry out their testing, however independent festivals rely on organisations such as the Loop , who rely on agreements with local police and councils, to allow them to continue testing.
The NTIA (Night Time Industries Association) and Sascha Lord have now instructed their legal teams to write a request for a judicial review in response to the Home Office’s actions. The letter calls for the immediate reversal of the June announcement, and for previously agreed arrangements to be reinstated. Legal action is threatened if the government fails to provide a response by July 7.
The letter states that despite the Home Office’s denial, it “is well aware that on site drug testing has been taking place at festivals across the country since 2014.”
It adds: “In response to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on the future of UK music festivals presented in August 2021, the Government said it will ‘continue to support back of house testing on substances that have been seized as this van provide useful intelligence and enable other partners to implement harm reduction measures’.”
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Michael Kill, CEO of the NTIA, states: “The Home Office must reverse their decision for 2023, and consider the true impact of withdrawing a practice which has been operating safely in some regions for over 10 years, with the full knowledge and support of the Police and local authorities.”
“The festivals and events sector work extremely hard to ensure festival goers are kept safe, and rely heavily on back of house drug testing as a vital part of the overarching harm reduction strategy. Without this facility we are putting people’s lives at risk, leaving a considerable void in drug intelligence for Police and medical support services on the ground for the rest of the 2023 season.”
Sacha Lord states: “The Home Office must put an end to this reckless disregard for the safety of festival goers and reinstate the existing Memorandum of Understanding with immediate effect. The industry works tirelessly to ensure we do everything possible to safeguard the public. If the Home Office continues not to support us in this vital work we will be left with no other choice but to call for a full investigation and consultation.”
Tiffany Ibe is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow her on Instagram
Written by: Tim Hopkins