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As acid attacks increase, pressure to tighten regulations mounts

Pressure to tighten laws related to the purchase and possession of corrosive substances is increasing after a significant rise in acid attacks in the UK over the course of the past year. According to the Metropolitan Police, 2016 saw 458 attacks involving corrosive substances, a rise of 74% from the previous year. Counting from 2010, those figures amount to over 2,000 acid attacks in London alone. The first six months of 2017 have already seen reports of up to 400 such attacks. Police figures have also reported a rise in the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, and Essex.

Speaking to the journalists, a spokesman for the Prime Minister agreed the attacks were “horrific” but insisted that “carrying acid or corrosive substance with intent to cause harm” already constituted an offence. Indeed, those caught could be charged with possession of an offensive weapon under the Prevention of Crime Act, an offense which carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail – provided it can be proved there was intent to cause harm. Yet, acid with a concentration of up to 92% can be bought over the counter without age restrictions, typically for use in household cleaning products. By contrast, legislation introduced in 2015 set an automatic sentence of six months in jail for repeated offenders caught in possession of knives. A debate held in the House of Commons on the 17th of July led by Labour MP Stephen Timms discussed the possibility of altering legislation to make carrying acid a crime similar in nature to carrying a knife. Mr Timms argued that “Carrying acid should in itself be an offence. Carrying a knife wouldn’t have been an offence some years ago. I think there’s been a pretty effective change – the same change should be made for acid.”

The MP and bodies such as the Acid Survivors Trust International have stressed that the element of anonymity, dearth of regulations, and the absence of age restrictions make acid an increasingly popular weapon in incidents of gang crime across the country.

Calls for change have become particularly insistent since the 14th of last month, after five people were injured in separate acid attacks across London perpetrated in the space of just over an hour. Institutions and businesses alike have already started to respond – the British Medical Journal published guidance this month on how bystanders can intervene to limit the injuries of acid victims, while the food delivery service Deliveroo is now providing its drivers with helmet-mounted cameras to deter attackers.

Anastasia Groenestijn

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