We recently worked with a client who was concerned about their personal safety, and in particular their belief that they may be a potential target for a ‘revenge acid attack’.
Acid attacks are not a new phenomenon, they have been occurring in India and the far-east for many years. They are often perpetrated as a result of spurned affection or attention and not always directed against the person who has refused the attention or affection. Often children, siblings, and other family members have been targeted, sometimes as a warning that the intended victim is next, or because the intended victim is un-reachable.
In the UK attacks using acid are increasingly used to ‘resolve’ professional rivalries, and to ‘restore respect’ between inner city gangs.
The UK has one of the highest rates of acid attacks per capita in the world, according to Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI). The Trust claims the country does not have “tight enough controls on acid sales” or “legislation specific to acid attacks”.
The number of recorded attacks has increased nearly three-fold from 228 recorded crimes in 2012 to 601 attacks in 2016.
Last year was widely regarded as the worst ever with more than 400 incidents reported in the six months to April 2017 alone.
Globally, 80% of acid attack victims are women, but interestingly in London, 80% of acid attack victims are men, and the belief is that most of these attacks are gang related. In these incidents acid is used as a mark of dominance, to let the victims and their peers know that they could have been killed, but the attacker has ‘chosen’ to scar them for life as a permanent warning to others. These actions are not confined to the streets and towns throughout the UK, similar incidents take place in prisons up and down the country. Prisoners do not have access to acid to maim their victims so they combine hot water, and either sugar or jam to form a ‘sticky napalm’ sort of substance. When this is thrown at the victim it sticks to the skin causing horrific burns.
London has emerged as a hot spot for acid attacks in recent years, with more than half of incidents within the UK taking place in the capital.
The number of cases more than doubled from less than 200 in 2014 to 431 in 2016, with the police focusing on specific parts of the city.
Outside of the capital, areas such as the West Midlands and Essex have also seen large rises in acid attacks in recent years as reports soared from 340 in 2014 to 843
Some of the most high-profile attacks of the hundreds carried out each year…
September 4, 2018 – three men were sprayed with a noxious substance in Westbourne Grove, West London
July 21, 2018 – A three-year-old boy was seriously injured when he was deliberately attacked with acid in the West Midlands. Police arrested four men after the toddler was wounded at Home Bargains in Worcester.
June 1, 2018 – Two teenage victims had to be rushed to hospital after a suspected attack in Newham, East London, both were found screaming in agony.
May 6, 2018 – Two men attacked patrons in Dalston, East London. Three men aged 17, 22, 27 received non-life-threatening injuries.
April 1, 2017 – Arthur Collins threw acid in Mangle E8 club in Hackney, East London, injuring 20 people and leaving many of them with permanent scars. The ex-boyfriend of Towie star Ferne McCann has been sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
July 27, 2017 – Daniel Rotariu, 31, was left blinded and scarred for life after acid was poured over his eyes as he slept at Katie Leong’s home in Leicester. She had coordinated the sadistic attack after her lodger boyfriend of the time rejected her advances. Leong was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 17 years for the attack.
September 2015 – Engineer Mark van Dongen, 29, took his own life after he was blinded and paralysed when his ex-lover Berlinah Wallace hurled concentrated sulphuric acid in his face as he slept in Bristol.
August 2014 – Beautician Adele Bellis was doused with acid in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Her abusive ex partner masterminded the attack, which has left her with permanent scarring and the loss of her ear and half of her hair.
December 2012 – Naomi Oni was attacked by her former friend Mary Konye on her way home from her job at Victoria’s Secret store in South East London. Konye is now serving 12 years for the vicious attack.
March 2008 -Katie Piper underwent 40 operations to treat her burns after she was attacked by a man taking orders from her jealous ex-partner Daniel Lynch in North London. Lynch is serving a life sentence in jail and Stefan Sylvestre, who carried out the horrifying attack on Lynch’s orders, has been in prison for the past six years.
Criminologists believe gang members may be swapping guns and knives for acid as a weapon of choice because possession is hard to monitor — but its impact on victims can be devastating.
Acid is commonly used in ‘robberies’ where staff are threatened with having acid thrown in their faces. The psychological impact of this type of ‘weapon’ is often greater than a bat, knife or firearm.
Is anything being done about it?
Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she had plans to ban the sale of corrosive substances to under 18’s
The policy would bring acid in line with the law on the possession of knives in a public place and anyone caught could be imprisoned for up to 4 years.
She told the 2017 Tory party conference: “Acid attacks are absolutely revolting. You have all seen the pictures of victims that never fully recover.
“Endless surgeries. Lives ruined. We are going to stop people carrying acid in public if they don’t have a good reason.”
Shopkeepers have stopped selling bleach and corrosive substances to kids and London cops have been given 1,000 acid crime response kits.
Officers are also due to get extra medical advice and protective clothing.
What happens to the body if it comes in to contact with acid?
Once acid touches skin it will start to react immediately. If acid comes into contact with water it causes a spike in the temperature (EXOTHERMIC REACTION) of the water. The human body is composed of around 60 per cent water.
An acid attack victim would at first feel a hot sensation on their face or body followed immediately by severe burning and suffering agonising pain.
Skin in contact with acid will instantly swell and then shrink causing unbelievable tightness and possibly splitting.
In somewhere such as a nightclub, where there are large groups of people, increased body heat and moisture in the air, the chances of there just being one victim of an acid attack or very slim.
Acid attacks, as with any type of attack can be carried out anytime anywhere. Quite often these types of attacks will take place when the victim is least expecting it, when their guard is down, or when they are in a confined space where there is a high chance of success and little chance of the victim moving out of the way of the attack. It is natural to open your door if someone knocks or rings the bell potentially putting you in the line of fire so to speak. Someone calls your name, you instinctively turn or look up at the person.
Acid is an ‘area weapon’ and once dispatched from its receptacle is does not discriminate, it burns what it touches whether you are the intended victim or not.
Whilst it is difficult to protect against acid being thrown at you, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the likelihood or minimise the impact of such an attack. Situational awareness is key. Be aware of people around you, are they acting suspiciously, is their attention focused on you (staring at you), do they ‘fit in’ with your location?
Are they carrying anything in their hands?
Have you been involved in a recent relationship dispute?
Are you protecting someone whose personal safety has been threatened?
Do you see someone you know in a place they wouldn’t normally frequent?
As with any journey, you are most at risk when leaving your house, your office or venue, and when you arrive at the same. People are generally focused on leaving one place and making their way to their next destination, be it for a meeting, going home, meeting friends. The same applies when they arrive at their destination. Take your time prior to leaving a place. If you can look out of the windows before exiting the building, look around as you exit. If you are suspicious or feel threatened go back inside. If it’s dark ask someone to escort you to your car. Don’t exit a building glued to the screen of your phone. If you are travelling by car, get in and lock the doors. Anti-Carjacking locks usually only operate after the vehicle reaches a certain speed. Start the engine and drive off, drive a short distance then pull over to do whatever you need to do. Most women get into a car, check themselves in the mirror, adjust lipstick etc., check their phone, check Facebook, put their handbag on the passenger seat and then drive off. The same drill applies to men as-well. When you arrive at your destination, park up and before switching off the engine look around. What can you see? Anything suspicious? Do you know where you are going? How far have you got to walk? Is it lit (if dark)? • When going out, try to go out in a group. Attackers are more likely to attack you when you are alone to reduce the likelihood of being recognised (although this may not always be the case). • If you are using public transport stay away from the doors to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of a random attack. When waiting at a bus stop try not to sit in the bus shelter. Some attacks (random and specific) have been drive-byes with acid being thrown from the window of a moving car. • If you do suspect that someone is carrying acid, or you believe you are about to be attacked RUN. It might seem like common sense, but the trouble with common sense is that it isn’t that common. • If you think you are about to be the victim of an acid attack and you can’t get away, you need to understand that you will potentially get burned by the acid. There are some things you can do to reduce the impact; If possible move out of the way, turn away, the acid may hit your back and not your face reducing damage to your sight or breathing. Drop your head to protect your eyes. Put your hands, coat or handbag up in-front of your face to take to bulk of the liquid, anything to protect your face and your eyes. Avoid putting your hands over your face as the skin on your hands and face may fuse together. • If you or someone near you gets acid on clothing, remove it quickly, taking care not to get acid on any other part of your body. • If you get acid on your skin try to avoid just rinsing with a small amount of water, as described above this could cause an EXOTHERMIC REACTION resulting in more damage by spreading the acid or a diluted solution further. If you are going to use water it needs to be a constant high capacity flow for 20-30 minutes (power shower, hose, running tap etc.). Other options are milk, bi-carbonate of soda or crushed up antacid tablets. Do not rub the affected area.
Sadly, this form of attack is becoming more and more common. Common substances used are Hydrochloric, Sulphuric and Nitric acid in their pure forms. Quantities of these acids can be purchased quite easily on the internet without any form of check taking place. You can buy 5 litres for as little as £5.00. A trip to any DIY outlet will give you access to products containing corrosive substances, or in some cases just looking in your garage or shed will see you have access to Drain Cleaner, Paint Stripper, Brick Cleaner etc. Prevention is better than reaction. Maintain awareness of your surroundings. Look at who and what is around you.