A police boss is calling for drug testing to be extended at music festivals and clubs in a bid to avoid more tragic deaths.
Ann Griffith, the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner of North Wales, spoke out after a mobile testing unit was set up at the popular Gottwood festival on Anglesey at the weekend.
There illegal drugs including ketamine and MDMA were handed in at amnesty bins set up by North Wales Police.
It was part of a drive to keep music fans safe after two young people died at the recent Mutiny Festival in Portsmouth.
The mobile unit was set up at Gottwood, near Llanfaethlu, on the north west of the island in an effort to find out if drugs being used there had been dangerously ‘cut’ with harmful substances.
Festival-goers had the opportunity to voluntarily leave any illegal or prohibited drugs in the amnesty bins ahead of being searched by trained staff at the festival entry point.
More than 5,000 people enjoyed four days and nights of House and Techno music within the grounds of the Carreglwyd Estate from Thursday to Sunday.
Ann Griffith accompanied Chief Inspector Mark Armstrong to see how police and festival organisers were working with other agencies.
Ms Griffith said the fact there were amnesty bins at the entrances and it was clear that people would be searched before entering the site was a step in the right direction.
She said: “Samples of substances left in the amnesty bins are taken by police officers to be tested by trained Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board staff and staff from other agencies.
“Anything that is found to be dangerous in that it has been mixed with cement dust, talcum powder or other ingredients means a warning message can be got out around the festival site via social media and other means
“That way people can be kept safe and made aware of a particular harmful batch of drugs or substances. It really is all about keeping people safe. We don’t want tragedies and lives ruined.”
She added: “We are moving in the direction the Police and Crime Commissioner wants to see although we still have some way to go.
“Mr Jones wants to see front of house testing stations at which festival goers can have the quality and purity of their drugs tested to ensure they are what they think they are and people know what they are taking. It would save lives there is absolutely no doubt about it.
“This would ensure people are kept safe. With the best will in the world we will never stop people attending festivals and taking illegal drugs and substances. We have to recognise and deal with it in the right way. Safety has to come first.
“I have to say I’m delighted to see the co-operation and partnership working between North Wales Police, the organisers, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, the local authority and the ambulance service.
“Anything we can do to reduce harm caused by illegal drugs sold on the street has to be a good thing. The most important thing for me is to save lives.
“An organisation called The Loop offer a service in the big festivals in England and nightclubs where people can go and test a sample of their and they are informed what is in the drugs.
“Many will choose to dispose of the substance they have bought when faced with evidence that the substance was dangerous or dud.
“A lot of the time, people will buy illegal drugs not knowing what’s in them. It will help that person to make an informed decision if they know what is in that drug.
“I would like to thank Chief Inspector Armstrong for his time at the festival which had a great atmosphere and which was enjoyed immensely by those attending.”
Chief Inspector Mark Armstrong was pleased with how successful the Gottwood Festival had been and the policing operation.
He said: “We have had drugs put into the amnesty bins particularly Ketamine and MDMA but at very low levels.
“Interestingly we have also had substances deposited that people had obviously bought believing them to be drugs that were actually things like talcum powder or cement dust and not drugs at all.
“The fact unscrupulous dealers would sell someone pure talcum powder or anything else purporting it to be a drug says it all. If ingested then it could cause serious harm.
“However, the amount of drugs handed in has been very low level. I think when festival goers realise they are going to be searched and there is even a drug sniffer dog present they realise it isn’t worth it and don’t even try.
“We did have some concerns on Friday after receiving information that there was a potential for a particularly dangerous ecstasy tablet known as ‘Punisher’ that may be delivered to the festival site. However, we have no evidence that that actually happened.”
He added: “I’m delighted with the way the festival has gone. We have worked closely with the organisers and the security providers, FGH security, who have been superb as have the welfare team.
“No one has had to be taken from the site due to medical reasons after taking any illicit drug and any issue that has arisen has been dealt with on site.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the policing operation and how the festival has gone overall.”
Tom Elkington, a Gottwood Festival director, says unfortunately drugs come with the territory when organising music festivals.
He said: “We will never stop people bringing drugs with them but what we have to do is make it as safe as possible.
“What we do is test as much as we can but without qualified chemist’s onsite we are limited to how much we can do. But if someone does feel unwell we can run some basic tests to check on the potency of whatever substance they have taken.
“We can then get the message out via social media, audible announcements and posters letting people know of any particular dangerous mix of drugs or high potency of substances that may have found their way onto the site.”
He added: “We believe the amnesty bins are working well. Once people enter the site there is a robust and rigorous search procedure.
“We have three meetings a day with the police, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board staff and other agencies where we discuss what has been found and any safety message we need to get out to festival goers.
“I could not be happier with the way we have worked with North Wales Police, it has to be safer and that’s what we all want. “