Last reviewed 11 January 2018

Sadly, this is yet another update on the state of acid attacks in the UK and follows on from two previous articles written by Caroline Raine in May and July 2017. Since the tragic acid attacks covered in those two articles the Government has started a consultation covering proposed changes on how acid and corrosive offences are dealt with. In this article Caroline outlines the proposed 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 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 is 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 the Government plans to publish a response within three months of the closing date, detailing which proposals it plans to continue with and any amendments to those proposals.

Acid attacker jailed for 20 years

Easter acid attack 2017

On Easter Monday 2017, a 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.