Stephen Timms MP: Swift action needed to prevent rising numbers of 'abhorrent' acid attacks
Stephen Timms MP calls on the Government to implement new measures to make it harder for criminals to purchase acid, and impose harsher sentences on perpetrators of acid attacks.
Today I am leading a debate in Parliament on Acid Attacks. Last month, two people were attacked with acid whilst sitting in a stationary car in Beckton in my constituency. Cousins Jameel Mukhtar and Resham Khan – an aspiring model – suffered severe burns, described by the Metropolitan Police as ‘life changing’. The police are treating the attack as a hate crime, and a suspect has been charged.
This latest incident marks a worrying upward trend in acid attacks. Last year, there were over 450 crimes in London, up from 261 in 2015. In 2016, almost a third of these attacks were carried out in Newham. Since 2010 there have been 446 acid attacks in the borough.
Acid attacks are particularly abhorrent. Acid is thrown onto the body of the victim – usually the face – with the intention of permanently disfiguring, maiming or blinding the victim. It leaves lasting physical and emotional damage. Speaking after that attack, Resham has said: ‘my plans are in pieces; my pain is unbearable’.
According to Metropolitan Police figures, only two of the acid attacks in the last year have been hate crimes, including the one in Beckton. The rest are connected with inter-gang violence and crimes such as burglary. A series of attacks of this kind were carried out by two people riding a moped in Hackney and Islington in the small hours of Friday morning. Acid is becoming a preferred weapon for criminals due to its ease of access and the difficulty tracing it back to the perpetrator. Coupled with the relative difficulty of acquiring firearms in the UK, and tighter restrictions on possession of knives, it appears that acid is a ‘safer’ option for those wanting to commit violent crimes.
In 2015, an Express.co.uk campaign ‘Stop the Acid Attacks’ showed that a 500ml bottle of 96% sulphuric acid – an extremely corrosive substance – was readily available to purchase online for as little as £4.95. Household bleaches can also be used as a weapon and purchased cheaply and easily at supermarkets and pound shops. Although less noxious than highly concentrated substances, bleach can cause tissue damage, particularly to the eyes.
That is why I am calling on the Government to take swift action. More needs to be done to prevent this violent crime. In the debate today, I will be asking Home Office Ministers to commit to three things:
- Reclassify sulphuric acid – commonly used as a drain cleaner – under the Explosive Precursor Regulations 2016 into the higher of the two categories, so that purchase would require a licence, as proposed by the British Retail Consortium;
- Bring the law on carrying acid – which is not in itself currently a criminal offence – into line with the law on possession of knives;
- Introduce tougher and more consistent sentences for those found guilty of carrying out acid attacks.
I am struck by the public show of support for further intervention to prevent acid violence. A petition calling for a licensing scheme to be introduced for acid sales has reached over 360,000 signatures. And the attack in Beckton has provoked real fear among my constituents.
My three proposals would make it harder to obtain noxious substances, and introduce tougher punishments for those who use them as a weapon. I am pleased to have the support of Newham Council, and will be working with others to tackle this problem.
We cannot reverse what happened to Jameel and Resham, but we must guard against further escalation in these attacks and ensure that innocent people can again move around freely, without fear of attack.
Stephen Timms is the Labour Member of Parliament for East Ham