Sacha Lord, the founder of Manchester’s Parklife festival, has written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman protesting the government’s U-turn on drug testing.
Lord has been urging Braverman to allow on-site testing in “pop-up labs” to go ahead claiming that festivals had been doing this for at least 10 years until last month when the government told him a license would be needed for the first time.
Drug-checking allows illegal substances to be tested and provide notifications if any are found to be dangerous.
Many larger festivals tend to use private companies for their drug checking but smaller and independent festivals usually link up with the charity The Loop, whose volunteers have been able to test at events without a licence due to agreements with local police and councils.
The Loop were recently informed that they had to apply for a licence 48 hours before they were set to begin drug testing at Parklife festival. It can take up to 16 weeks to be approved for a licence.
Due to this, the charity were not able to provide the service at this years festival making it the first time in 10 years that drug checking was not available.
Both Lord and the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) have instructed their legal teams to request for a judicial review in response to the Home Office’s actions. The letter sent to Braverman demanded that the June 8 decision be immediately reversed and the previously agreed arrangement for drug testing be restarted.Legal action has been threatened if the government fails to provide a response by July 7.
The letter states that the Home Office “is well aware that on site drug testing has been taking place at festivals across the country since 2014.”
It adds: “In 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 van provide useful intelligence and enable other partners to implement harm reduction measures’.”
Lord said “This on-site testing has saved lives and the absence of it puts lives at risk.”
He added:“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.”
Michael Kill, CEO of Night Time Industries Association, stated: “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.”
Last summer the organisers of Boardmasters were forced to warn attendees of dangerously high-strength MDMA on-site, while a warning was issued last July by The Loop after pills tested at Secret Garden Party were found to contain more than double the amount of MDMA.
In 2021 the UK government was urged to back substance checks at such music events after a report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee (DCMS) warned of a surge in drug-related deaths.