New test can prove date-rape victims' drinks were spiked

Hair samples are being taken from rape victims who complain of being drugged with amnesia-inducing substances following a breakthrough in forensic scientific testing.

Hair samples are being taken from rape victims who complain of being drugged with amnesia-inducing substances following a breakthrough in forensic scientific testing.

Dozens of women, and men, are believed to be attacked every year after being tricked into taking the mind-altering drugs which leave them unable to protest. Now a single strand of hair could provide vital evidence in the fight against what was formerly regarded as the near "perfect crime" because of the speed at which the substances leave the body.

Since the breakthrough six months ago, police officers have been taking samples from victims after it was discovered that drug traces can be detected in the hair shafts up to 18 months after ingestion. The first two cases using such evidence are due to go court later this year.

A report funded by the Home Office, published yesterday, has indicated that sex attackers are increasingly using drugs that induce memory loss and semi-consciousness to carry out assaults. The study of 123 cases found that in most casesdrinks are spiked in pubs or clubs and that the assailant is usually known to the victim. In some, gangs of rapists have photographed or videoed their assaults.

Until now it was almost impossible to obtain hard evidence of drug use in the assaults because the substances used only remain in the victim's blood and urine for a few hours. But new tests can isolate traces of drugs locked hair up to 18 months after the event. Nail clippings can also be used.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Sturman, of the Metropolitan Police, who carried out the study, said the tests provided "a very powerful new way of obtaining evidence". "It will help discourage offenders - some have wrongly considered it the perfectly crime on a pill," he said.

Dr Hugh Rushton, a senior lecturer at Portsmouth University's school of pharmacy, led the research. He said the new techniques could calculate when the drug was taken "within about a week's accuracy". He said he was involved in two drug rape cases and was preparing to give evidence obtained from the victim's hair.

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