Acid Now Listed as a Dangerous Weapon
In March, acid was listed as a highly dangerous weapon in new sentencing guidelines. Those caught carrying acid or likewise corrosive substances in public can face 6 months in jail under new guidelines. Those under the age of 18 could receive 4 months detention and training order. If the substance is used to harm- this would be covered by sentencing and guidlines on assault, attempted murder or murder. The new guidelines match those already in place for knives.
Sentencing guidelines and offences update: corrosive substances
As reports of assaults and robberies involving the use of acid or likewise corrosive substances have increased, pressure comes with how offenders who attack are dealt with by courts.
The sentencing council is clear that corrosive substances factors high culpability on the part of the offender. In the assault guideline, using acid as a weapon indicates high culpability, which indicates a greater level of offence seriousness and likely a longer custodial sentence.
In the robbery guideline, the use of any corrosive substance to inflict violence places the offence in the highest category of culpability. Any offender who causes high levels of harm to a victim either physical or psychological, which can include use of corrosive substances, will be assessed as falling into the highest category of harm, this ultimately means lengthier sentencing.
The guidelines take in to the account the use of corrosive substances or acid categorised as a highly dangerous weapon. Possession or threats to use a highly dangerous weapon place the offender in the highest category of culpability.
Recent UK Sentences:
- Last year, a woman was convicted in Leicester Crown Court of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison for attacking her housemate and partner with sulphuric acid. The attack took place whilst the victim was in bed; leaving him blind, disfigured, and in a coma for 6 weeks after attack.
- A 19 year old teenager was jailed for 17 years at Reading Crown Court after what is believed to the first conviction for an acid attack killing in the UK, with sulphuric acid. The offender admitted manslaughter. The victim was taken to hospital and died 11 days later of multiple organ failure, after contacting septicaemia due to burns.
- Last year, a man was jailed for 16 years in Beckton East London, for an acid attack on two cousins. The offender approached the vehicle in moving traffic and squirted acid into the car through both passenger windows. The offender ran around each side of the car and threw acid onto both victims from each window. CCTV shows the offender trying to keep up with the car, by running alongside it.
- The ringleader of a gang sprayed corrosive cleaning fluid in the face of a shopkeeper during a failed robbery was sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court and jailed for 10 years, with a further 4 years on license.
Retailers pledge not to sell harmful corrosives to under 18’s
Many large retailers and independent business leaders have pledged not to sell harmful corrosive substances to under 18’s. In January, the government published details of the voluntary commitments, with retailers who have signed the pledge: Waitrose, B&Q, Morrison’s, Wickes, Co-op, Screwfix and Tesco are all brands to sign the pledge, on the responsible sale of corrosive substances.
The voluntary commitments listed in the pledge:
- not to sell products to under 18’s that contain harmful levels of acid or corrosive substances – and applying Challenge 21/25 policies for age identification, staff supported by till alerts, supervision and inclusion of these products in age restricted sales training.
- equivalent age restriction measures are applied to products sold online
- Comply with the Poisons Act and promote awareness to staff of products which contain levels of acid and other corrosive substances which are either regulated or reportable under the Act.
The pledge arose after the University of Leicester launched a research project commissioned by the Home Office into the motivations of violent acid attacks.
The research conducted included criminologists examining the motivations and decision making process behind carrying and using acid as a weapon, as well as the characteristics of offenders and relationships with their victims. The research also looked into how substances were purchased and transported.
What has led to the rise of Acid Attacks?
Acid or corrosive chemicals are used as weapons in a range of crimes. Crimes include revenge crimes, honour based crimes, gang violence and robbery.
Although difficult to gauge the true scale and prevalence, in the UK more cases are perpetrated by male offenders towards male victims. According to Acid Survivors Trust International Charity statistics, between 2011 and 2016 male victims doubled that of female victims.
Evidence suggests that many attacks are part of gang related activities, with acid becoming a weapon of choice. This could be due to the fact that acid previously had no tight regulation over the sale, and previously had no legislation specific to acid attacks. It could be argued that it was therefore easier for offenders to use acid rather than a knife in an attack, as it had less severe sentencing consequences.
Assaults involving corrosive substances more than double since 2012 in England
As result of a Freedom of Information request, figures from 37 UK police forces show corrosive substance assaults have dramatically increased from 183 reports in 2012, to 504 in 2016-2017.
Rachel Kearton the Assistant Chief Constable of Suffolk Police and National Police Chiefs Council, stated that victims of domestic violence and those involved in gang crime may be reluctant to come forward in such cases.
Ms Kearton stated between 15 to 20 different substances are known to have been used in attacks.
“Bleach, chemical irritants – anything you might find in a kitchen cupboard. It’s very difficult to control all substances. Offenders conceal the weapons carrying them in soft drink bottles, making them impossible to identify without chemical analysis.”
The UK has the highest number of recorded acid attacks per person of any country in the world
Rachel Kearton stated during a London briefing that “The UK has one of the highest rates of recorded acid and corrosive substance attacks per capita in the world and appears to be rising. In 2017 we exceeded previous records for the number of attacks; I strongly feel that this is an under-reported crime at this time.” Last year 400 attacks were recorded in a 6 month period- averaging on 2 attacks per day.
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