London acid attack: Legislation urged following five linked crimes in '90-minute spree'
14 Jul 2017
The Government is considering tighter controls on the use of some chemicals in the wake of a rising tide of acid attacks that has already claimed the life of one person.
Street drama: Incidents' frenzy
Home Office Minister Sarah Newton says more regulation could prove difficult to enforce with many being household products "under everyone's sink".
The Government has become "increasingly concerned" about the escalation of incidents, especially in London.
It is working with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to create an action plan to halt the upward trend.
But former Labour minister Stephen Timms, whose East Ham constituency registered a third of all London's incidents last year, is tabling a Commons adjournment debate on Monday (July 17) – calling for carrying acid to be made an offence.
The ex-Chief Treasury Secretary wants tougher and more consistent punishment for those found guilty, suggesting licensing the purchase of sulphuric acid as he urged a change in sentencing guidelines.
He added: "I think that the sentences for attacks of this kind should be reviewed."
The MP called for sulphuric acid to be re-categorised so that a licence is required to buy the chemical, adding: "Sulphuric acid is already covered by the Explosives Precursor Regulations introduced last year, but it's in a kind of lower category in those regulations."
His comments follow the arrest of two teenagers after men on mopeds carried out five acids attacks during a robbery spree across London lasting less than 90 minutes, the MPS said.
It added one victim had been left with "life-changing" injuries after being doused on Thursday night (July 13). The force said the latest attacks were linked and were questioning the teenagers at an east London police station on suspicion of robbery and causing grievous bodily harm.
A spokesperson said one line of inquiry detectives would be pursuing was whether the attackers were targeting moped riders to steal their bikes.
London is the UK capital of acid attacks – the MPS figures showing more than 1,800 assaults with a corrosive substance since 2010.
Assaults with acid have nearly tripled in two years in London – rising from 166 in 2014 to 454 last year.
Some 208 were treated as violence against the person with 38 causing serious injuries – one fatal. Some 118 incidents involved robberies with ten leaving victims with serious injuries. Two were linked to sexual offences, including one rape.
MPS Commissioner Cressida Dick said the growing trend of victims being doused with corrosive liquids was concerning.
She said: "The acid can cause horrendous injuries. The ones last night involved a series of robberies we believe are linked – I am glad to see we have arrested somebody."
Mr Timms told BBC Radio 4's Today
programme that carrying a bottle of sulphuric acid without justification should be treated as an offence, like carrying a knife, adding he was "most concerned about sulphuric acid">
"We could certainly come up with arrangements that would allow people to use sulphuric acid in the normal way, perhaps with the benefit of a licence. But simply walking around the street with a bottle of sulphuric acid, that should be an offence," he said.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) is collating force data to build a picture of the scale of the issue.
The string of assaults comes just days after a man appeared in court accused of throwing acid at an aspiring model and her cousin.
Resham Khan, 21, and Jameel Muhktar, 37, were left with life-changing injuries after the attack on Ms Khan's 21st birthday in Beckton, east London.
In an attack at the Mangle E8 nightclub in Dalston, east London in April, two people were partially blinded and another 22 more were left with severe burns – 18 requiring treatment at a specialist unit.
However, the NPCC lead for corrosive attacks, Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton, has said that it was hard to prevent these products falling into the wrong hands. “Many are household products, including for example bleach and drain cleaner, and are readily available over the counter at DIY and pharmacy stores, as well as supermarkets,” she added.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister viewed acid attacks as "horrific".JULY 13 ACID ATTACK TIMELINE
• The attacks began at 10.25pm on Thursday in Hackney Road. A 32-year-old moped driver had been approached by the two males as he drove towards the Hackney Road junction with Queensbridge Road. The suspects had thrown the noxious substance into his face before one of them jumped on to his vehicle and drove away. The member of the public was left with facial injuries and taken to hospital;
• Little more than 20 minutes later, at around 10.50pm, another victim had been sprayed with searing liquid by two people at the Upper Street junction with Highbury Corner, Islington. The victim was taken to hospital in north London;
• Then at around 11.05pm, the fast-moving attackers targeted another man in Shoreditch High Street. His injuries were not life-threatening, police said;
• Within 15 minutes, they appeared to have struck again, hurling acid at a man on Cazenove Road and causing "life-changing" facial injuries; and
• The final assault of the night was reported to police at 11.37pm, when another man was confronted as he sat on his moped in traffic on Chatsworth Road. After again spraying the liquid in the victim's face, the moped was stolen and both attackers fled.ACID ATTACK FACTFILE
• The substance used is usually sulphuric acid 'vitriol' or nitric acid. Less commonly, hydrochloric acid may be used, which is less damaging to victims;
• Worldwide, some 80 per cent of victims are women, according to Acid Survivors Trust International, with perpetrators often believed to be family members or men seeking revenge for sexual rejection; and
• In the UK, men are more likely to be victims than women, which is believed to be due to gang violence. Reportedly, gang members carry acid concealed in a drinks bottle.