On July 4th, while walking in Mile End, a heavily pregnant woman had acid thrown on her stomach. Her partner also suffered facial burns as a result of the acid. On July 15th, an unnamed 16 year old was arrested in connection with five attacks using acid, all of which took place in a 90-minute time period. Jabed Hussain, 32, was one of those five individuals attacked. He was sprayed in the face with acid by two assailants who attempted to steal his bike. These are but a few examples of recent acid attacks in the United Kingdom.
These incidents are representative of the rise in such attacks. London’s Metropolitan Police released numbers that demonstrate at least an 80 percent increase in the amount of reported attacks, from 261 in 2015 to 458 in 2016. So far in 2017, over 200 such cases have been reported. In other parts of the United Kingdom, numbers have also been reported in the hundreds.
Attacks involving corrosive substances have been around since the 1700s, and are usually attributed to gang violence. However, despite attempts to find gang connections in the recent stream of attacks, the majority of the attacks seem to be taking place outside of gang crime. The randomness of these crimes makes them more difficult to predict and thus combat.
The questions remains, why the sudden rise in acid attacks? Reasons for this are likely related to the recent crackdowns on knife and gun crimes in the U.K. Tougher sentencing has been enacted for these particular weapons, making it more difficult to obtain them.
In comparison, obtaining sulfuric acid is as easy as buying a soda at the local convenience store. According to NBC, “Illegal possession of knives and guns can carry prison sentences of four to five years in the UK, but a liter of sulfuric acid can be purchased for little more than $10 without ID.” Furthermore, it is more difficult to prove malicious intent for possession of such substances, as it has a variety of other uses.
To combat the rise in such attacks, Parliament have considered a number of measures. Parliament member Stephen Timms believes “carrying acid without good reason should be a criminal offence, as carrying a knife is already.” He, and other members of Parliament, have also proposed that licenses be required in order to purchase sulfuric acid.
Another measure that is currently being discussed is enacting maximum sentencing in cases of acid attacks, meaning life in prison. Detective Inspector Michelle Peters is quoted as saying, “The impact of these substances on victims is terrible. Let me be clear, those found carrying corrosive substances will be arrested and they will be made to face the consequences.”