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London’s acid attack epidemic is getting worse

by Tim Hume
Jul 26 2017, 8:00am

Growing concern about London’s acid-crime problem has done nothing to slow the spate of attacks, as two more young men were doused with a noxious substance in an area east of the British capital Tuesday night.

The victims, believed to be in their late teens, flagged down police in Tower Hamlets, East London, at about 7 p.m. local time Tuesday, after being sprayed with acid. Pictures circulated on social media showed the victims, stripped to the waist and with burnt patches on their heads, being treated by an attending crew of firefighters.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said the injuries were not life-threatening, adding that no arrests have yet been made.

Tuesday’s attacks are just the latest in the British capital’s growing epidemic of acid violence, as offenders – overwhelmingly young men – increasingly use highly acidic household products such as drain cleaners as weapons in street violence, robberies, and targeted attacks. Cheap, highly accessible, and easier to carry undetected than a knife, acid – referred to in one recent criminal trial as “face melter” – has become a worryingly popular weapon, leaving a growing number of victims with devastating physical and mental injuries.

The number of acid attacks in London has surged in recent years – from 166 recorded in 2014 to 458 last year. Figures for 2017 are not yet available, but police say the upward trend of attacks has continued. Earlier in July, five acid attacks were carried out in just 72 minutes during a string of robberies in northeast London. The attacks, for which a 15-year-old and 16-year-old were arrested, sparked street protests from food delivery drivers, who fear being targeted with noxious liquid in moped robberies unless more is done to combat the problem.

In April, a man flung acid across a crowded London nightclub, injuring 20 and leaving two people blinded in one eye.

London’s Metropolitan Police announced Monday that 1,000 acid attack kits will be issued to rapid response police cars around the capital, including protective gear, and large bottles of water. Police in east London – a hot spot for such attacks – will be given kits to allow them to test for acid if they suspect someone may be carrying the substance with intent to use it as a weapon.

Politicians debated the spike in attacks Monday, as many called for manufacturers of drain cleaner and similar products to make the substances gloopier – and therefore less able to be used as in violence. There have also been calls for the carrying of acid as a weapon to be made a specific criminal offence.

Speaking to the London Assembly’s police and crime committee Monday, the Metropolitan Police’s deputy commissioner, Craig Mackey, gave a profile of the epidemic based on a breakdown of 2016 figures.

The majority of the victims were aged 15 to 29, and a third were of Asian descent. About 80 percent of both attackers and victims were male – unlike acid violence in other countries, where it is typically a form of gender-based violence targeting women.

“The impact this sort of attack has on people is extraordinary,” Mackay told the committee. “Many of us have been unfortunate to see quite a bit in our services but acid attacks are really extraordinary and strike at something quite horrific in people’s psyche.”

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