Music festivals poised to allow revellers to test illegal drugs

Leeds and Reading festivals are among those expected to introduce it this year.

Some of Britain’s biggest music festivals are poised to allow revellers to test their drugs before they take them.

For the first time this summer, Reading and Leeds Festivals and a number of other live music events are aiming to introduce the testing of illegal drugs for attendees with the support of local police forces.

Melvin Benn, head of Live Nation subsidiary Festival Republic, revealed the pioneering scheme to the Press Association and expects it at “between six and 10 festivals this year”.

A police officer patrols in the campsite at the main stage at the T in the Park music festival at Strathallan in Perthshire.
Police patrol the T In The Park music festival (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Benn, who also organises Latitude, V Festival, Wireless and a host of other events, has been working on the plan since last summer and is awaiting confirmation of support from West Yorkshire Police (WYP) and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

Festival-goers will be able to take their drugs to a testing tent run by The Loop, an organisation which usually conducts forensic testing of drugs seized by police. They will then tell them what is in the drugs before destroying whatever was handed over.

Last year, The Loop ran the scheme for the first time at a UK music festival when around 200 revellers tested their illegal drugs at Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire.

T in the Park festival
T In The Park festival (Jane Barlow/PA)

Founder of the organisation Fiona Measham said the initiative’s expansion was “radical”, adding: “It’s really exciting that police are prioritising health and safety over criminal justice at festivals.”

She believes up to 10 festivals will be involved this year, including a number of independent events, and hopes front-house testing will become commonplace in nightclubs and city centres in the future.

Last year, 17-year-old Lewis Haunch died after taking drugs at Leeds Festival while in the same year two teenagers died at T In The Park in reportedly drug-related incidents.

Benn told the Press Association he was being “very proactive”, adding: “We talked about it during the summer of last year and the reality is that I took a decision that unless and until the NPCC supported the principle of it, it was difficult for us to move forward on it.”

Reading festival
Reading Festival (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

He said he had now seen a draft of an agreement that will make it easier for forces across the country to support the initiative.

He ruled out it being introduced at Download next month, but said: “We’ll see it this year for definite … at Leeds, I’m pretty certain.”

“It’s taken a long time and it won’t be at every festival, but where we think there is a need to do it we will be doing it.”

Stock photo issued by Police Scotland of drugs sold as ectasy
Stock photo issued by Police Scotland of drugs sold as ecstasy that contain dangerous chemicals (Police Scotland/PA)

WYP assistant chief constable Andy Battle, who leads the policing operation for Leeds, said they were “looking at the possibility of supporting the festival’s organisers”.

He added: “We can never condone the use of illegal drugs, but we recognise that some people will continue to take them and we need to adapt our approach in the interests of public safety.

“Consuming controlled drugs is inherently dangerous and the tragic consequences of this have been illustrated with drugs-related deaths at the event in recent years.”

“We will continue to work closely with the on-site security team to target the possession and supply of controlled drugs and the criminal law will be applied appropriately as necessary.”

Leeds Festival
Leeds Festival (Danny Lawson/PA)

Lead for drugs at the NPCC, commander Simon Bray, said a “strong understanding of the implications on policing” was required before testing could be endorsed.

“We could not support initiatives that do not comply with the law or that have unintended negative consequences.

“Any proposal would need to be considered by the police force, local authority and health services with a view on its legal, scientific and possible health implications.”

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