A fact the Home Office won't face up to: drug-assisted date rapes are up 50 per cent

Met officer accuses the Home Office of ignoring disturbing facts as allegations of such crimes edge above 1,000 a year
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The Independent Online

Home Office ministers have been accused of downplaying the escalating problem of drug-assisted rapes despite a series of convictions and a surge in reported attacks.

A major drug rape charity has seen a jump of nearly 50 per cent in alleged drug rapes, where victims in clubs and at parties are given drinks spiked with powerful drugs such as GHB and temazepam, this year.

Hundreds of women and men – who make up 11 per cent of complainants – have claimed they were raped after the drugs left them with memory blackouts or unable to fight off their attackers. In more than 70 per cent of cases the victim knows his or her attacker, suggesting the offence is a form of date rape.

The Drug Rape Trust has received nearly 1,100 allegations of drug-assisted rape this year, compared to 780 in 2000. The Metropolitan Police has also investigated more than 100 alleged drug rapes in central London this year and has several potential prosecutions pending.

But Detective Chief Inspector Peter Sturman, the Met officer who founded the trust in 1999, claimed that the Home Office had failed to act effectively on this evidence. "It's almost like sweeping it under the carpet," he said.

In the past two years there have been eight convictions for drug-aided rape. Civil servants point out that often there is not sufficient forensic evidence to prove drug rapes occur, because less than 2 per cent of urine samples had detected drugs. They also dismiss claims that Rohypnol, a sedative, is a major rape drug in Britain.

DCI Sturman, a Bramshill police college lecturer, shares their doubts about Rohypnol. But he said the Home Office had ignored the fact that "club drugs" such as GHB, which has been heavily implicated in rapes, leave the body within two to eight hours, making them extremely difficult to detect. Last week it emerged that GHB will be made a controlled drug next year.

DCI Sturman said: "The Home Office have decided not to take drug rape as seriously as they should. I think I provided them with adequate research evidence that they should." The Home Office, he said, had ignored the fact that neither it nor the police collects UK drug rape statistics.

His complaint was supported by Vera Baird QC, the Labour MP for Redcar and a legal expert on sexual offences. Ms Baird, a trustee of the Drug Rape Trust, said: "I'm really concerned it isn't high enough up on the Home Office's agenda."

The Met has just launched a new campaign in London targeting drug rape. Clubs and pubs in the four London boroughs with the biggest concentration of clubs and rape cases – Camden, Lambeth, Westminster and Southwark – are being asked to use beer mats and put up posters reading, "Who's watching your drink?"

Scientists have also developed a dipstick that tests drinks for benzodiazepines such as Rohypnol. Experts at LGC, the privatised government laboratory service, expect to develop a similar test for GHB next year.

The Home Office denied that it was ignoring drug rape. Its only initiative is to introduce a tougher criminal drug rape offence next year as part of a review of all sexual offences, raising the maximum penalty from two to seven years in jail.

"Drug-assisted sexual assault is an appalling crime and it is one which we take very seriously," a spokesman said.

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