Lancaster University graduate 'still cautious' five years after drink spiked on night out

A fine art student who lost the use of her drawing hand for weeks after her drink was spiked has said she still feels "vulnerable" during nights out five years after the incident.

Saturday, 30th October 2021, 1:07 pm
Updated Saturday, 30th October 2021, 1:24 pm

Lancaster University graduate Polly Sutherland was spiked when she was 19 and said paramedics, doctors and the students' union did not take her complaints about the incident seriously.

She was speaking amid growing concern over spiking incidents reported across the country - including some with needles - which this week led to the so-called "Girls' Night In" boycott. That saw female students and other young women shun nightclubs and bars on Wednesday evening.

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Lancaster University graduate Polly Sutherland (image: PA)

Miss Sutherland, from Stone in Staffordshire, had been on a night out at the university's The Sugarhouse, run by the students' union, in December 2016 when friends noticed her behaving strangely.

The graduate, who also has type 1 diabetes, said being drugged left her needing to use a walking stick for around a month because it damaged her blood sugar levels - something which can be fatal for people with the condition.

Recalling the night, Miss Sutherland, now 24, said: "I don't remember anything suspicious happening, or noticing anything happening.

"It was just, later in the night, friends with me noticed that my personality changed - I seemed very different... erratic.

"So they took me home, I went to bed, but when I woke up in the morning I had a lot of bodily weakness and twitches in my arms, legs, all over really."

She went on: "When I went to (my GP) they weren't very helpful.

"I remember feeling really disappointed, because I went to them saying, 'From what's going on, I think I've been spiked'.

"They almost raised their eyebrows, almost accusing me of taking drugs, and I was trying to get out of it somehow or making excuses.

"I felt very let down by the doctors at that point."

Miss Sutherland had to apply for deadline extensions in the final year of her art degree because she could not paint or draw following the incident.

She said she reported the incident to Lancaster University Students' Union (LUSU), but received little response.

Asked how the incident made her feel, she said: "Very... I don't want to use the word violated, because maybe that's too strong.

"But it's scary to think what could have happened.

"I'm lucky that I had a lot of friends around me that took me home when they noticed something wasn't right, so I'm very thankful for that, because I don't know what purpose that person went out with.

"It made me feel very vulnerable. Even now, when I go on nights out, I'm very cautious of it now, and it's in the back of my mind all the time."

The graduate, who is now in her second year of a politics degree at Keele University, said she has joined the Girls Night In movement.

But she said: "The thing that bothers me is that, with the boycotting, the onus is on girls, again, to stay in.

"I think the fact that we are the ones that have to stay in because this is happening is putting it on us, it's our responsibility to make sure we don't get spiked, instead of telling people not to spike people."

Miss Sutherland said clubs should use CCTV and scan ID cards on entry, instead of just checking them by eye, so that they have a record of who attended each night.

In a statement, Lancaster University said: "We pride ourselves on Lancaster being a safe place to study and are distressed to hear about any of our students being assaulted in this way. The Sugarhouse is owned and managed by Lancaster University Students' Union, and we cannot comment on individual incidents.

"However, if any of our students have safety concerns in relation to spiking, or any other kind of assaults, then we would strongly encourage them to report them to the university and we have created a range of ways to enable our students to do so. We would also encourage students to report any such incidents to the police."

The fact-checking website Full Fact reported on Friday (29th October) that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) had collated responses from all forces across the UK in relation to spiking incidents involving some form of injection, with a total of 56 confirmed reports from across September and October.

As of 23rd October, the NPCC had also collected 198 reports of drink spiking.