The Night Time Industries Association & Nightlife entrepreneur, Sacha Lord, have written to the Home Office demanding a judicial review following its decision to ban on-site ‘pop-up’ labs to test drugs at festivals.
The NTIA & Co-founder of Parklife Festival, and Greater Manchester’s night-time economy advisor to the mayor Andy Burnham, accused the home secretary Suella Braverman of “putting lives at risk” after her department did a dramatic U-turn and demanded licences to test drugs at all festivals.
The Home Office announced on 8 June 2023 that on-site drugs testing at music festivals would require a Controlled Drugs Licence and that testing must take place at a named, permanent premises rather than at festival sites.
In a letter to the Home Office, the NTIA & Lord demanded that the decision be immediately reversed and the previously agreed arrangement for drug testing be restarted.
Since 2014 there have been on-site drug testing labs at music festivals in the UK. The service has been provided with the agreement of local police and councils by way of a Memorandum of Understanding with festival organisers and the drug testing companies.
Operating on a cross-agency basis, means information about dangerous drugs circulating at an event can be passed on to festival goers, organisers, police and medical services while any harmful substances can be destroyed or passed to the police.
On-site testing also enables medical teams to treat anyone who has an adverse reaction quickly and effectively because they will already be aware of the drugs chemical composition.
Lord said: “This on-site testing has saved lives and the absence of it puts 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.
The NTIA and Lord wrote in his letter that despite denials to the contrary, “the Home Office is 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 said 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’.”
The letter also pointed out that in response to a question in The House in July 2018, the then Policing Minister, Nick Hurd MP, said the “Home Office’s position, and that of Ministers, is that these are local operating decisions that we are not standing in the way of.”
The time involved in sending drugs away from the festival for analysis defeats the purpose of on-site testing, the NTIA and Lord stated.
“On-site testing produces immediate results which can be acted on by drug users, festival organisers, the police and medics. The labs also present a safe, anonymous area for a drugs amnesty scheme to be operated, thereby taking dangerous substances out of circulation at festivals.”
Michael Kill CEO Night Time Industries Association said, “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 stated, “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.”