Great Britain is in the midst of a very disturbing crime wave. Attacks using corrosive liquids — usually acid — have skyrocketed in the last two years.
Last Thursday, two teenagers on mopeds attacked five men in one night around London. One of the victims suffered serious facial burns and lost his eyesight.
Great Britain has the highest number of acid attacks per capita in the world. What’s unusual about the attacks is that many are directed at men. Some are apparently random attacks on strangers. But authorities say that acid attacks have now become the preferred method of gang warfare, largely because of acid’s easy availability and low cost.
“It’s definitely a growing problem”, Jaf Shah, executive director of the charity, said. “Attacks in the UK tend to be men-on-men, men make up around two thirds of victims, which goes against the global pattern where the vast majority are women and girls.”
Shah said gangs were thought to be favouring acid as a weapon due to the fact that it is cheap and easily available. “In the UK there aren’t strict controls on the use of acid”, he said, “96% sulphuric acid can be purchased from hardware stores without any ID or a license. When there are controls around other weapons such as guns and knives it becomes a weapon of choice.”
He added: “It’s also much cheaper and there’s no risk of being traced, you can buy in cash, and it’s not an offence to carry it. A recent number are reported to be by gang members.”
While Shah said that a proportion of the attacks where being carried out by gangs, others were hate crimes, violence again women, and stranger-on-stranger attacks had also been reported.
“The effects of acid attacks are two-fold”, Shah said. “The physical aspect is it causes enormous pain, the severity can vary, but they can result in extreme disfiguration and blindness, for example.
“They also leave very serious psychological scars, which can vary in different forms – deep depression, anxiety, panic attacks.”
He said that in order to stop all types of attacks, the government should implement tighter controls on the sale of corrosive substances.
“The recommendation we’ve made to government is that they need to introduce controls on sales of acid – age restrictions and licenses, and banning cash sales, and making it an offence to be caught carrying it”, he said, adding that more research needed to be carried out to determine exactly which substances were being used by perpetrators.
David Videcette is a former Met Police detective with a background in fighting organised crime. He told BuzzFeed News that the rise in acid attacks was directly linked to street gangs and organised crime groups carrying out moped-enabled crimes.
The number of attacks is startling:
According to a report released by the Metropolitan Police Service in March, acid attacks are on the rise in London. In 2014, there were 166 filed incidents, rising to 261 in 2015, and 454 in 2016. Police have told CNN that trend has continued this year.
Acid attacks in London are largely concentrated in the city’s east.
Simon Laurence, chief superintendent for Hackney borough in east London, called on retailers to question youths buying household chemicals alone that could potentially be used in attacks.
“It’s drain cleaner, oven cleaner, ammonia — different types of household products which can be bought. My plea is to sellers to have moral responsibility, social responsibility, to ask the questions,” he told CNN in an interview.
London’s police chief, Cressida Dick, said police were concerned by the spike in acid attacks, which she called “completely barbaric.”
“We will arrest people. We will enforce the law as we can. We are working very closely with the Home Office to try to see whether there’s any changes in the law required,” she told LBC Radio.
Will acid begin showing up in America as a weapon of choice for street gangs? With easy access to guns, American gangs don’t have the problems experienced by London gangs. Firearms are heavily regulated in Great Britain, and even getting an illegal gun can prove to be a problem.
But even with the easy availability of guns in America, acid could be used as a psychological or revenge weapon. All that’s needed is a ready supply of acid and barbarians willing to use it.