Nightlife entrepreneur Sacha Lord and the Night Time Industries Association have rejected claims by the Home Office that they have not reversed their policy on drug testing at festivals.
In a letter to lawyers, JMW acting on behalf of Lord & NTIA, who had demanded a judicial review, the Home Office said:
“Our consistent position has been that anyone wishing to lawfully undertake activities that include the possession, supply or production of controlled drugs (including in the course of drug testing services) to whom an exemption does not apply, should apply for a Controlled Drugs Licence.”
But Sacha Lord, the co-founder of Parklife Festival, and the night-time economy advisor to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “It is frankly laughable and wholly disingenuous for the Home Office to suggest that there has been no reversal in policy.”
NTIA CEO Michael Kill added “There seems to be an unwillingness by the Home Office to acknowledge that testing has happened for the last 10 years under MOU, and much of our dialogue and engagement has been met with the same bureaucratically scripted response.”
The row follows a Home Office decision on 8th June that on-site drugs testing would require a Controlled Drugs Licence and must take place at named, permanent premises rather than at ‘pop-up’ labs. The decision meant that on site drug testing at Parklife could not go ahead.
On site testing has been in place at festivals since 2014 and provided with the agreement of local police and councils by way of a Memorandum of Understanding with festival organisers and the drug testing companies. Drugs that are confiscated by the police are tested and if found to be dangerous, festival goers are warned, and harmful substances destroyed or passed to the police.
Sacha Lord continued, “Our existing testing arrangements have been a vital feature of festivals up and down the country for many years, but now the Home Office wants us to believe they were unaware this was taking place. It’s something that would frankly be negligent were it not demonstrably untrue. The only explanation is that this is a policy reversal.
“We call on the Home Office to 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 and frankly this summer the Home Office has looked to score political points by putting lives at risk.”
The leading provider of on-site drug testing, The Loop, was informed at the beginning of June that a Controlled Drugs Licence was needed which would require the company to have a permanent laboratory – which is not currently available at any music festival in the country.
But in its letter to Oliver Wright at JMW Solicitors, who is acting on behalf of Mr Lord and the NTIA, the Home Office said:
“Venues should apply to the Home Office for a Controlled Drugs Licence. As part of a licence application, individuals or the company involved would be subject to the usual considerations, visits, and fees. Any such application would then be considered on its merits and taking into account all relevant considerations.”
In response, Lord accused the Home Secretary Suella Braverman of putting lives at risk, he said, “This on-site testing has saved lives and the absence of it puts people in serious danger. The Home Office has long been well aware that on-site drug testing has been taking place at festivals across the country since 2014.
“In a response to the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee report on the future of UK music festivals presented in August 2021, the Government went as far as to say it ‘will continue to support back-of-house testing on substances that have been seized as this can provide useful intelligence and enable festival organisers and other partners to implement harm reduction measures.”
NTIA CEO Michael Kill expresses concerns over policy change, he said, “With no acknowledgement from the Home Office of previous back of house drug testing practises or engagement, and a rigidity in the current policy and dialogue, we have been left at an impasse.
“Although the Home Offices position is evidently contradicted in practise and at multiple communication points, we have had no choice but to bring this to the public domain.”
“Even under this new policy regime, there is a clear lack of clarity on elements of the drug testing license requirements, which left to individual interpretation has the potential to exclude a considerable number of festivals from operating this facility.”
“The festivals and events sector work extremely hard to ensure festival goers are kept safe and rely on back of house drug testing as a vital part of the overarching harm reduction strategy. Without this facility we are leaving a considerable void in drug intelligence for Police and medical support services on the ground.”
“It is extremely disappointing to see that the Home Office change in policy is taking precedence over safeguarding young people’s lives.”
The Home Office noted that, “At present the Defendant (the Home Office) has not received any applications for drug testing at major festivals this summer but will continue to engage with any potential license applicants.”
Despite this many of the summer’s biggest festivals operated their usual testing facilities, electing to prioritize customer safety. Lord commented, “It’s a small wonder the Home Office has received no applications given it is clear that were festival organizers to apply they would be forced to shut down the vital testing facilities they had relied upon for many years to save lives.”