Carrying acid should be treated the same way we treat carrying knives

In the space of just 90 minutes last weekend, five Londoners were injured in five separate acid attacks on our streets.

These terrifying attacks are not only on the rise; they are beginning to look like a sick craze. And that is deeply troubling. What makes them even more shocking is the casual nature of the acts. Lives are being turned upside down – profoundly and forever – in the course of petty theft. In other cases, we are seeing indescribably cruel acts inflicted for no obvious reason at all.

Earlier this week I spoke to a borough commander who told me the police fear we are seeing the beginning of something that will grow, that parents are even telling their children to carry bottled water, just in case. That is not the sort of society any of us wants to live in. As your members of parliament, we cannot allow that to happen,

I was pleased when Amber Rudd, the home secretary announced a plan to tackle acid attacks – by providing police officers and prosecutors with the powers they need to punish severely those who commit these appalling crimes, and by making sure that acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons.

It is argued, correctly, that many of the components needed for an acid attack are both readily available and necessary for mundane household tasks. But that is true of knives as well. And we have addressed the ease with which people can purchase knives, working closely with big retailers, raising public awareness about age restrictions, making it harder for young people to but knives online.

On the back of a campaign by my friends and former London MPs David Burrowes and Nick de Bois, we introduced mandatory minimum sentences – anyone caught in possession of a knife for a second time will face a custodial sentence.

The home secretary’s view, and mine is that we need to treat those carrying acid the same way we treat those carrying knives.

Under the home secretary’s plans, retailers will be asked to find ways to restrict the sale of acid as well as reducing the strength of cleaning materials.

Her plans will make clear that carrying acid will not be tolerated here in London or anywhere in the UK. Sentencing for carrying acid must and will change to reflect the severity of the crime, and the impact it has on victims’ lives.

But more than that, there needs to be a significant deterrent. It is not acceptable that lives have been dashed and perpetrators have faced just a few years in jail. That not only undervalues the physical and emotional trauma faced by victims, it means the risks for the perpetrators is minimal.

Life sentences cannot just be reserved for survivors. It must be made clear – and advertised widely now, before the craze takes hold – that anyone engaging in acid attacks, no matter the damage they succeed in doing to their victims, will receive a sentence that properly reflects their attempt to destroy a life.

This article appeared in the Sunday Times on 26 July 2017

On July 26th, 2017, posted in: Press Release by