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Confusion over festival drug testing

Confusion over festival drug testing


Manchester’s Parklife festival didn’t have on-site drug testing this year. It says the Home Office effectively blocked it, but the government says its policy hasn’t changed. What’s going on?

For the first time in a decade, Manchester’s Parklife festival didn’t have on-site drug testing after its organiser said the government effectively blocked it.

Previously, in collaboration with a drugs safety charity called The Loop, Parklife has carried out what is known as “back-of-house” testing. Drugs that are smuggled into the festival are tested after being seized by police and if they are found to be unsafe – for example, if they’re laced with a lethal substance – all festival goers are sent a text message with a warning. 

This year Parklife says that the Home Office asked The Loop to apply for a licence to test drugs rather than relying on its usual agreement with the police.

“It will take three months, but you’re not guaranteed to get it,” Sacha Lord, organiser of Parklife festival, told the BBC’s Today programme. “So straight away, you can’t plan any form of welfare or harm reduction.” 

But in a statement the Home Office told Tortoise that the licence isn’t a new requirement. “Our position hasn’t changed,” they said. “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.”

Tortoise understands that for years some testing providers like The Loop have been operating within a legal grey area. They worked with the police but without an official Home Office licence and were allowed to continue.

But this year, according to a Home Office source, the government had to re-issue the official guidance after a request for clarification from The Loop.

The charity didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Glastonbury festival confirmed to Tortoise that it will be conducting on-site testing this year. The Home Office say this is because they are working with a licensed provider.

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

But it isn’t clear what the future will look like for smaller events which previously relied on The Loop to carry out their tests.

The Home Office insists that it continues “to keep an open dialogue” with any organisation applying for a testing licence.

This episode was written by Patricia Clarke and mixed by Tomini Babs.