No front-of-house drug testing at 2022 Glastonbury Festival

Andy Battle, head of security for Glastonbury Festivals

Andy Battle, head of security for Glastonbury Festivals - Credit: LDRS

Visitors to this year’s Glastonbury Festival will not be tested for drugs when they enter the site – despite impassioned pleas from Somerset councillors.

The organisers of the Glastonbury Festival, which takes place from June 22 to 26, currently operate a ‘back-of-house’ testing policy, where drugs are tested once they have been found, surrendered or seized within the site.

The festival’s head of security explained to Mendip District Council – which issues the festival’s licence – that implementing front-of-house testing (where people offer drugs to be tested as they go in) would not be an effective deterrent to dealers.

This response was greeted with dismay by several councillors – one of whom said he would “string up” and “remove certain body parts” from anyone found guilty of drug dealing.

Andy Battle, the festival’s head of security, addressed members of Mendip District Council’s licensing board when it convened in Shepton Mallet on Wednesday evening (April 6).

The board was originally due to be addressed by an unnamed drug liaison officer from Avon and Somerset Constabulary, but they were unable to attend.

Councillor Shannon Brooke – who represents the Beckington and Selwood ward near Frome – made an impassioned plea to introduce front-of-house drug testing at the festival, citing a personal tragedy.

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She said: “These young people are quite often away from home for the first time, they’re camping with their mates and they’re vulnerable to peer pressure – and there’s often experimenting with drugs. Like it or not, that’s what happened.

“Very sadly, my best friend’s son had a best friend who died at the Reading Festival in 2019. It’s a very serious issue – that boy didn’t take drugs habitually, but he did at festivals. He took too much ecstasy in too short a space of time.

“I know that bad things can happen to good people, and that’s what we’ve got to try and help to avoid.

“Drug testing at front of house is very common on the continent, and the drug problems and overdoses weren't as prevalent there – they were more aware and the drugs could be tested.

“We’ve got an amazing line-up of artists at Glastonbury this year – it’s probably going to be the best Glastonbury ever, but let’s hope our young people stay safe.

“Front-of-house testing discourages the dealers from turning up with dodgy gear in the first place. Yes, some of them will – but the minute the word’s out, they’re not going to make a buck, are they?”

Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee recommended front-of-house testing be implemented at UK media festivals in a report published in the summer of 2021.

However, the government declined to fully implement its findings, citing concerns raised by “providers of medical services for Glastonbury and Reading festivals” that the “potential unintended consequences of such testing have not been adequately assessed.”

Mr Battle previously served as assistant chief constable for West Yorkshire Police and was the national portfolio holder for policing music festivals before his retirement.

Since then he has “worked in the festival industry” focusing on “preparedness for major incidents”, lending his expertise to the Download Pilot Festival and Creamfields before working with the Glastonbury Festival team.

He defended the festival’s decision not to implement front-of-house drug testing, stating he was “really confident” about the support facilities in place to assist people found to have taken drugs during the event.

He said: “We have a back-of-house testing facility, so we are able to test drugs on site. The drugs that are seized, surrendered or found abandoned, we can test.

“We use that intelligence to inform communications with the public via social media and to notify the medical team – but actually that’s of very little use to them [the medics], because they have the capability to deal with all drugs.

“We have welfare capabilities that have the ability to handle 50-plus people – we employ consultant psychologists, nurses and drug counsellors. Front-of-house testing is only effective when people present themselves to it.”

Mr Battle added that front-of-house testing would not stop what he claimed was the main cause of drug deaths at festivals – namely individuals taking more than one drug at the same time, often with alcohol.

He said: “Drugs death are tragedies. Evidence suggests that, in the main, it’s more than one drug that’s involved – and invariably alcohol is involved as well.

“There is no testing available which will tell you what the safe level of multi-drugs and alcohol are – it’s a false premise that front-of-house testing would help us to provide the right knowledge.

“I’ve spent my life chasing drug dealers – nothing prevents them. They are a parasite, and they will find every opportunity to peddle drugs on everybody.

“They’ll peddle brick dust if they can – they’ll simply peddle anything to make money, and nothing will prevent it – no amount of front-of-house testing.”

Mr Battle added that people had been more restrained with drug use at festivals since the last coronavirus lockdown ended, stating Creamfields “wasn’t the drugs fest we thought it was going to be”.

He said: “We would never condone drugs, but I’m reassured that we will see ‘normal’ usage, rather than ‘the floodgates are open, get ready, we’re all gonna go mad’.”

Councillor Damon Hooton was critical of Mr Battle’s stance, citing his own experience working in Frome’s Sainsbury’s store.

He said: “I work in the retail sector and – bless their hearts – the security guards we have don’t stop thieving. But the perception is there – that they are there to stop that, and that they do stop some of it.

“I am rabidly anti-drug. I may well be a Liberal Democrat, but quite happily I would happily string them [drug dealers] up –  I’d quite happily remove certain body parts from all of them.”

Councillor Sam Phripp, who chairs the board, added: “I would say, having attended Glastonbury Festival myself, I think there can be an impression when you are there in a crowd that there is a permissive culture on drugs.

“I don’t mean to sound like Mary Whitehouse in saying that, but I think that the average punter going along, seeing various people taking drugs, seeing the police there very much to be a friendly face and to be supportive – I think that is a concern.”

Mr Battle responded: “We absolutely do not condone drug-taking; however, we do see it as a medical and welfare matter. We don’t want to criminalise people for the use of drugs.

“That’s not to say that people wouldn’t be arrested by the police for possessing drugs if it was appropriate for the police to do.

“We do absolutely see the dealing of drugs as a criminal police matter – there’s no grey area at all there.

“We work very closely with the police to understand where the organised crime groups are operating, and they will put plans in place to deal with that.

“The most important lesson around drugs is educating people. It’s my experience that if the messaging comes from the local police or the local council, it will simply not hit the mark – because the people who follow you on Twitter aren’t the people who follow the festival.

“The best opportunity to engage is through the festival itself, and it’s got to land right – it needs to be a message that’s attractive to that audience. It’s gonna be something that’s eye-catching and informative.”

Mr Hooton is standing in the local elections for the new unitary Somerset Council on May 5, as one of two Lib Dem candidates in the Frome West division.