Acid attack punishments assessed in government review

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Media caption"My helmet saved me," says London acid attack victim Jabed Hussain

People who carry out acid attacks in England and Wales could face longer jail terms as part of a "wide-ranging" review, following a rise in incidents.

Perpetrators can already face a life sentence, but Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Sunday Times she wanted them to "feel the full force of the law".

"Life sentences must not be reserved for acid attack survivors," she said.

There are calls to tighten laws for the sale and possession of acid after five attacks in a night in London.

According to the Home Office, carrying out an attack with a corrosive substance can already result in a prison sentence of up to life, depending on the nature of the charges.

Being found in possession of acid, with intent to carry out an attack, can mean a sentence of up to four years.

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. But we can and will improve our response."

And she said she would ensure everyone working within the criminal justice system has the power to "punish severely" acid attackers.

Attacks doubled

Politicians and acid attack survivors have called for tougher sentences on perpetrators, and MPs are also due to debate the issue 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.

What will the 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
  • Crown Prosecution Service 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

Monday's Commons debate will be led by Labour MP Stephen Timms, who is calling for carrying acid to be made a crime - similar to carrying a knife.

Under the current law, if police stop someone carrying acid they have to prove intent to cause harm.

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."

Ms Piper's attacker was given a life sentence, with a minimum of six years, while the man who organised the attack was also imprisoned for life, to serve a minimum of 16 years.

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.

Image caption Acid attack survivor Katie Piper said the aftermath was a "life sentence" for victims

Sarah Newton, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, told BBC 5live this was not a "new crime", but "has been escalating in London".

"Unfortunately, these substances are used in so-called honour-based violence, in domestic violence, and by gangs in retribution.

"It's not a clear picture, so we need to get more intelligence, more data together."

She had admitted that tighter regulations would be 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."

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