An action plan for tackling acid attacks

London, especially, has been hit hard by the scourge of acid attacks. Reported figures show a 74% rise in attacks year on year. A third of the attacks last year happened in the borough of Newnham.

One of the key challenges has been the ease of acquiring these dangerous substances over the counter – often with no questions asked.

The Police have expressed a concern that it is becoming the preferred weapon of choice for robbery gangs. Presumably due to carrying a knife bringing a mandatory sentence – whereas carrying acid does not.

Already leaders in the retail sector have taken action. Stores including B&Q and Homebase have stopped selling sulphuric acid products and the British Retail Consortium support the most toxic products only being available on licence.

This is in addition to the Home Office carrying out an urgent review. Covering whether the CPS needs to change guidance so that corrosive substances are included in the classification for dangerous weapons. Legislative change could come through the Poisons Act 1972 to cover corrosive substances.

Current legislation gives guidance to shops that sulphuric acid is listed as a ‘reportable substance’. This means that whilst a licence is not required for purchase, under the guidance ‘suspicious transactions’ must be reported. However many products do not list the concentration of acid which separates ‘reportable’ products to conventional products like bleaches. This has led to confusion and retailers adopting differing approaches.

Changes to tackle these awful attacks should include;

(1) Sentences for carrying corrosive substances without a lawful excuse as currently covered within knife crime sentencing (up to four-years).

(2) Legislative and CPS guidance changes to ensure that attacks with acid are covered as dangerous weapons.

(3) The Poisons Act 1972 to cover all corrosive products – so retailers need a licence to sell and buyers need a licence to purchase.

(4) Purchases will be to over 18 year olds only, requiring proof of age identification; coupled with credit card only transactions – so purchases can be traced if needed.

(5) Manufacturers being required to clearly label corrosive products and the level of sulphuric acid contained.

(6) Increasing intelligence led Police stop-and-search.

(7) Mandatory life sentences on those convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent.

Only clear and bold action can tackle this awful and heinous crime that is affecting the country and London especially.


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