Acid attack punishments assessed in government review
Sentences for people who carry out acid attacks in England and Wales could be increased as part of a “wide-ranging” review, following a rise in attacks.
Ministers have faced calls to tighten laws, including for the sale and possession of acid, after five attacks over one night in London on Thursday.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Sunday Times that perpetrators should “feel the full force of the law”.
“Life sentences must not be reserved for acid attack survivors,” she said.
MPs are also due to debate acid attacks in the Commons on Monday.
The review will look at existing laws, the response of police, sentencing, how people access harmful products and the support offered to acid attack victims.
Assaults involving corrosive substances have more than doubled in England since 2012 to 504 in 2016-17, according to a Freedom of Information request to police forces by the BBC.
Separately, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said more than 400 acid or corrosive substance attacks were carried out in England and Wales in the six months to April 2017.
Where the age of the offender was known, one in five was younger than 18.
A 16-year-old boy has been charged in connection with the attacks in London on Thursday.
Under the new strategy, the Home Office will assess whether the Poisons Act 1972 should cover more acids and harmful substances.
It will review Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance to prosecutors, to make it clear that acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons, and what is required to prove intent.
The government said it would work with police and the Ministry of Justice to assess whether the powers available to the courts, including sentencing, are sufficient.
In addition, police will be given new guidance on searching potential perpetrators and how to respond to a victim of an acid attack.
The government also said it would “further work” with retailers to agree measures to restrict sales of acids and other corrosive substances.
Announcing the plans, Ms Rudd said: “Acid attacks are horrific crimes which have a devastating effect on victims, both physically and emotionally.”
She said it was “vital that we do everything to prevent these sickening attacks”.
“The law in this area is already strong, with acid attackers facing up to a life sentence in certain cases,” Ms Rudd said.
“But we can and will improve our response.”
Politicians and acid attack survivors have called for tougher sentences on perpetrators.
Labour MP Stephen Timms will lead an adjournment debate on acid attacks in the Commons on Monday, where the government will outline the plans.
What will the acid attack review look at?
- Whether judges have sufficient sentencing powers to deal with acid attack perpetrators
- New guidance for police officers on preventing attacks, searching potential perpetrators and helping victims at the scene
- The Poisons Act 1972 will be assessed for whether it should cover more acids and harmful substances
- CPS guidance to prosecutors – and how they class acid and corrosive substances as “dangerous weapons” – will be reviewed
- Retailers to agree measures to restrict sales of acids and other corrosive substances
- New research to understand the motivations for carrying out acid attacks
- Ensuring victim impact statements are completed in every case by the police
- Confirming appropriate support is provided to victims – including the initial medical response, giving evidence in court and long-term recovery
Acid attack survivor Katie Piper has said victims face a “life sentence” and also called on tougher sentencing to act as a deterrent.
In a letter published in the Scars, Burns & Healing medical journal on Thursday, she said: “I will continue to need operations and therapy for life. For acid attack survivors, the aftermath is a life sentence.”
Another measure in the government’s plan includes ensuring that police record victim impact statements so courts are made aware of the “full impact” of the attack.
However, Sarah Newton, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, has admitted that tighter regulations are difficult to enforce because “these chemicals are under everyone’s kitchen sinks”.
Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton, the NPCC’s lead for corrosive attacks, also said it was “virtually impossible” to ban the sale of all corrosive substances.
Bleach, ammonia and acid were the most commonly used substances, according to the NPCC.
She said: “We are working closely with the Home Office and retailers to determine how we can keep these products from people who intend to cause harm.
“Police have dealt with a number of high-profile cases in recent months and we continue to collect data from police forces across England and Wales to understand the scale and extent of these attacks and develop our ability to support and protect victims.”