Calls for debate on drugs at music festivals after deaths

Campaigners have renewed calls for radical changes to tackling drug use at music festivals in the wake of two deaths at events in the North of England within 24 hours.

A mud soaked Leeds Festival.
A mud soaked Leeds Festival.

Leading charities want to see so-called ‘front of house’ testing rolled out at all major events in the UK, allowing those considering taking illegal drugs to find out what they have bought before doing so.

The measure was introduced for the first time this year at Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire and at Kendal Calling in Cumbria, where a teenage festival-goer died in 2015.

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Danny Kushlick, of the charitable think tank Transform, said: “There needs to be a fundamental shift away from the pretence that we can stop people using drugs or that they are kept safe by turning a blind eye. We have to engage with people who are using drugs and keep them safe. We need to be doing everything we can to ensure that everyone comes back safe from festivals.”

A man, 26, died at Creamfields Festival in Cheshire after concerns about his well-being were raised on Friday night.

The following afternoon, West Yorkshire Police were called to the Leeds Festival, where a 17-year-old boy had been taken ill.

Lewis Haunch, from Leigh in Greater Manchester, underwent emergency treatment at St James’ Hospital in Leeds but was pronounced dead just after midnight on Sunday.

Two 17-year-olds also died in separate incidents at T in the Park in Scotland in July, with police looking into the potential involvement of drugs in both cases.

The roll-out of drug testing facilities is also backed by UK charity Drugwise, which wants to see organisers inviting drug support charities onto festival sites as well.

Director Harry Shapiro said: “Certainly if one person handed in a tablet for testing and decided to chuck it in the amnesty bin on the advice of people doing the testing, this is a good thing.”

Cheshire Constabulary made 28 arrests in the first 24 hours of the Creamfields, including two for drug possession and 22 were for drug supply offences.

Meanwhile, 58 arrests were made at Leeds Festival – two more than last year.

Chief Superintendent Keith Gilert, the commander for the policing operation, said the majority were drug supply offences.

“Several related to substances that were previously called ‘legal highs’, but which are now illegal drugs,” he said. “These arrests were the direct result of the continued close working relationship that we have with Festival Republic and its staff at Leeds Festival.”

A spectrometer, which speeds up identification of seized drugs, was used for the first time at this year’s Leeds Festival at the weekend. Searches were also carried out by gate staff, while undercover police and security worked the site.

Festival Republic’s managing director, Melvin Benn, said: “The loss of this young man’s life at Leeds festival is simply devastating and deeply sad for all those associated with the festival.

“Medical teams on site responded incredibly quickly, and I’m certain we could not have done more to prevent this desperately sad loss of life.”

Two 17-year-olds arrested in Greater Manchester on suspicion of drugs offences after Lewis’s death have been released on bail.