Published by BBC NEWS - 22nd June 2023
  • Published
Multiple people raising their arms, wearing colourful outfits, singing along to songs at Secret Garden Festival. People are holding drinks, water bottles, wearing sunglasses and hats, while the sun is shining and the sky is blue with a shade of cloud.Image source, Getty Images

Glastonbury, Leeds and Reading Festivals have said they’ll have drug safety tests this year.

There were fears the service wouldn’t be at UK festivals in 2023 after it was missing from Manchester’s Parklife.

But Glastonbury and Festival Republic, which runs events including Leeds and Reading, say they’ll have “back-of-house” testing as usual.

The picture for smaller events which previously relied on a charity to carry out their tests isn’t so clear.

One event that says it definitely won’t have drug testing this year is the Secret Garden Party (SGP).

The boutique festival in Cambridgeshire was the first in the UK to offer public access front-of-house testing in 2016.

This is where people can have drugs checked to make sure they’re safe – but the last time it happened at UK festivals was in 2018.

Since then, events have used back-of-house testing – where confiscated or surrendered drugs are checked behind the scenes and alerts sent out if problems are found.

SGP boss Freddie Fellowes tells BBC Newsbeat it was due to return to his festival this year, but now that won’t be happening.

The situation is similar to Parklife, which had planned to have tests in place but ditched them 48 hours before the event.

Founder of the Manchester event, Sacha Lord, said he was told a special licence would be needed this year, and blamed a government “u-turn”.

But the Home Office, which is in charge of policing and drugs policy, says nothing has changed.

A drug warning circulated by drug-checking charity The Loop. It's got a picture of an orange pill with the word SOUNDCLOUD embossed on it on the right-hand side with a 1cm scale marker showing its size. The accompanying text reads:

Image source, The Loop

Which festivals are testing?

Glastonbury Festival says it will be carrying out back-of-house testing “on drugs which have been surrendered or seized” this year, as they normally do.

“The results of these tests are used to inform appropriate healthcare messaging,” it told Newsbeat.

And Festival Republic Boss Melvin Benn told BBC Radio Berkshire he was “confident” Leeds and Reading’s testing arrangements “meet all the government requirements”.

Newsbeat’s been told that bigger festivals use private companies to do their testing.

But smaller festivals have previously used The Loop – a drugs charity – to perform their tests.

The bosses of Parklife and SGP both told BBC Newsbeat that they’d been able to do this through agreements with police and local councils.

Regulations in place since 2001 state that drug testing providers need to have a licence.

But festivals say this is the first year that they’ve been told they’ll need a separate permit – and that getting one could take three months.

Freddie says this isn’t enough time for SGP – which is being held from 20 to 23 July.

Festival attendees pass through the gates. A man is smiling looking at the camera. Many people have got backpacks on, wearing sunglasses. The gates are coloured green, with a light blue sky.

Image source, Getty Images

“We are now in a position where harm reduction has been set back by over 10 years,” says Freddie.

“Let’s just be really honest, people do take recreational drugs. And there’s nothing that I as a festival organiser can do to change that.”

Freddie says the lack of testing at SGP this year means the festival “will be responding by upping the amount of eyes and ears we have out on welfare”.

He feels there’s a lack of clear guidance and a “complete unwillingness from the Home Office to engage” in the conversation with anyone on the front lines.

A Home Office spokesperson says: “Our position hasn’t changed. Drug testing providers must have a licence to test for controlled drugs, including at festivals.

“We have consistently made this condition clear, and law enforcement have always had a responsibility to uphold this legal requirement.

“We continue to keep an open dialogue with any potential applicants.

“Festivals aiming to test drugs off their site this summer must work with the police and a Home Office-licensed drug-testing provider”.

Sacha Lord’s told Newsbeat he’s meeting lawyers and other festival bosses to discuss taking the Home Office to court.

The Loop told Newsbeat it couldn’t comment.


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