Last reviewed 20 September 2022

The UK has one of the highest rates of recorded acid attacks per capita in the world. The Government has recently implemented legislation covering how acid and corrosive offences are dealt with. In this article Caroline outlines the changes and updates us on a recent prosecution.

Proposal for new acid and corrosive offences

In October 2017, the Home Office started a consultation Proposals for New Acid and Corrosive Offences IA No: HO0294.

The proposal set out aims to restrict access to acid and other corrosive products and give the police additional enforcement powers to deal with possession of corrosives in a public place and protect the public.

The intention being to ban the sales of corrosive products to under 18s to reduce the risk of them being used in attacks and to strengthen the law on possession in a public place to deter people from carrying corrosives and make it easier to prosecute. The intention is to mirror existing knife legislation.

Prior to publishing the proposal some research was undertaken that showed that a fifth of the acid attacks were carried out by offenders under the age of 18. And that bleach, ammonia and acid were the most commonly used substances in attacks. Across the UK 39 forces provided data that showed there had been 408 cases of corrosive attacks between November 2016 and April 2017, showing a steady increase in the frequency of these attacks. The statistics also showed a range of motivators including robbery, organised criminality, gang related, domestic abuse, hate crime and honour-based violence.

The legislative proposals are:

  • make it an offence to sell acid or other corrosive products to a person under 18

  • make it an offence to possess an acid or other corrosive substance in a public place without good reason.

By making it an offence to sell products with certain corrosive substances to under 18s it will make it harder for under 18s to obtain products containing the most harmful corrosive substances that are of particular concern and which are being used as weapons to inflict serious harm and severe life-changing injuries.

The Government is proposing to create a new offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place. The proposed offence is modelled on the current offence in s.139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 of possessing a bladed article in a public place. It is envisaged that similar defences to the knife possession offence would also apply to the proposed corrosive substance possession offence, such as, if the person could prove they had a good reason or lawful authority for possessing it in a public place.

The proposal stated the penalties for the new offence should be similar to the offence of possession of a knife in a public place, which is a maximum of six months’ imprisonment on summary conviction or a fine; or a maximum of four years’ imprisonment, a fine or both on conviction on indictment.

By restricting the sale of corrosive products to under 18s it will mean that retailers could commit a criminal offence if they sold a product containing harmful levels of acid or other corrosive substances to a person under 18. This would also apply to online sales.

The proposal also states the intention to make it an offence to possess an acid or other corrosive substance in a public place without good reason. Currently under s.1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, it is an offence to have an offensive weapon in a public place. It is possible for an acid or other corrosive substance to fall within the definition of an “offensive weapon”. However, for an offence to be committed it is necessary for the police and prosecution to prove that the person is carrying the substance with intent to cause injury. This new offence would place the onus on the person carrying the corrosive to prove that they had good reason for having it. Again, this is similar to the current knife possession offence.

The consultation closed on 9 December 2017 and in 2022 we saw legislation implementing this proposal.

Offensive Weapons Act Commencement Regulations

The Offensive Weapons Act Commencement Regulations bring the remaining provisions within the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 into force. Consequential amendments were also made to the Sentencing Act 2020.

The measures are as follows.

  • Part 1: Corrosive products and substances.

    • Section 1: sale of corrosive products to persons under 18.

    • Section 2: defence to remote sale of corrosive products to persons under 18.

    • Section 3: delivery of corrosive products to residential premises, etc.

    • Section 4: Delivery of corrosive products to persons under 18.

    • Section 6: Offensive of having a corrosive substance in a public place.

    • Section 8: Appropriate custodial sentence for conviction under s.6 — this has now been superseded by the Sentencing Act 2020.

    • Section 9: Offence under s.6: relevant convictions — this has now been repealed by the Sentencing Act 2020

    • Section 10: Search for corrosive substances.

  • Part 3: Sale and delivery of knives etc.

    • Section 34: Sale of bladed articles to persons under 18.

    • Section 35: Defence of sale of bladed articles to persons under 18.

    • Section 38: Delivery of bladed products to residential premises, etc.

    • Section 39: Delivery of bladed products to persons under 18.

    • Section 40: Defences to offence under ss.38 and 39.

    • Section 41: Meaning of “bladed product” in ss. 38, 39 and 40.

    • Section 42: Delivery of bladed articles to persons under 18.

  • Part 4: Possession etc of certain offensive weapons.

    • Section 45: Prohibition on the possession of offensive weapons in further education premises.

  • Part 5: Threatening with offensive weapons.

    • Section 50: Offence of threatening with offensive weapon in a public place, etc.

    • Section 51: Offence of threatening with offensive weapon, etc on further education premises.

    • Section 52: Offence of threatening with an offensive weapon, etc in a private place.

    • Section 54: Search for corrosive substance on school or further education premises.

  • Part 6: Firearms.

    • (Brings the Sentencing Act 2020 measure relating to mandatory minimum sentences into effect).

    • Section 54(6): mandatory minimum sentencing for offences relating to rapid firing rifles and bump stocks.

  • Part 7: Enforcement.

    • Section 64: Enforcement of offences relating to sale, etc of offensive weapons.

    • Section 65: Application of Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008.

  • Part 8: Supplementary.

    • Section 66: Guidance on offences relating to offensive weapons, etc.

    • Section 67: Consequential amendments relating to armed forces.

  • Schedules

    • Schedule 1: Corrosive products

The list of corrosives restricted is as follows.

  • Ammonium hydroxide (CAS RN 1336-21-6) - 10% w/w 

  • Formic acid (CAS RN 64-18-6) 10% w/w 

  • Hydrochloric acid (CAS RN 7647-01-0) 10% w/w 

  • Hydrofluoric acid (CAS RN 7664-39-3) 0% w/w

  • Nitric acid (CAS RN 7697-37-2) 3% w/w

  • Phosphoric acid (CAS RN 7664-38-2) 70% w/w

  • Sodium hydroxide (CAS RN 1310-73-2) 12% w/w

  • Sodium hypochlorite (CAS RN 7681-52-9) 10% w/w

  • Sulfuric acid (CAS RN 7664-93-9) 15% w/w.

More information can be found here.

The regulation can be found here and here.

Acid attacker jailed for 20 years

Easter acid attack 2017

On Easter Monday 2017, an horrific acid attack happened at an east London nightclub, Wringer & Mangle. In total 22 people were injured and over 600 people had to be evacuated from the nightclub. Sixteen people suffered serious burns. At the time of the incident an unknown substance thought to be an acid was thrown across the packed nightclub covering many in the way.

On 19 December 2017, Arthur Collins, the ex-boyfriend of television star Ferne McCann was jailed for 20 years in prison with an extra five years on licence for the acid attack. The 25-year-old admitted to throwing a liquid but claimed he thought it was a date rape drug. Arthur Collins claimed he had taken the date rape drug from other people in the nightclub and was throwing it to show them it was gone.

The Judge, described the crime as a “despicable act” saying “his defence from first to last was carefully researched and choreographed in order to explain away the evidence against him”. He added, he threw the acid “irrespective of the persons on whom it landed” and that “his motivations for such a vicious course of conduct was nothing more than a perceived personal slight”.

Addressing Collins, the Judge said: “You knew precisely what strong acid would do to human skin. Having thrown the acid over the club you slunk away and hid in the rear and pretended to be nothing to do with the mayhem you had caused. It was deliberate and calculated and you were intent on causing really serious harm to your victims.” Collins was labelled an “accomplished liar” and someone who has “not the slightest remorse for his actions”.

Reminder of what to do in the event of an acid attack — advice from the NHS

Report, Remove, Rinse

  • Report the attack: dial 999.

  • Remove contaminated clothing carefully.

  • Rinse skin immediately in running water.

Detailed steps to take

The steps you would take following an acid attack are the same as the steps you would take in the event of a chemical burn in the workplace.

  • Make sure the area around them is safe.

  • Wear gloves so that you don’t get exposed to the chemical.

  • If the chemical is in powder form — brush it off and then wash the contaminated skin with water.

  • If the chemical is in liquid form, wash with copious amounts of water for at least 20 minutes.

  • Remove any contaminated clothing, including jewellery.

  • If the acid is in the eye — wash the eye out with water, irrigating the eye lid both inside and out — take care not to contaminate the other eye with the contaminated water. Don’t try to remove any contact lenses.

  • Seek medical advice immediately.

Never attempt to neutralise burns caused by acids or alkalis unless you are properly trained to do so.

Conclusions

Check your product range and if they contain any of the corrosives listed to ensure that you have a policy in place to make sure they are not sold to anyone under the age of 18. If in doubt ask an expert.