Carrying acid in public could lead to six months in jail

Media caption,
Adele Bellis says the consequences of the attack are "always going to be with me."

People caught twice carrying acid in public should receive a mandatory six-month prison sentence, the Home Office has proposed.

It is aimed at curbing the number of acid attacks committed, which has more than doubled in five years.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she intended to ban the sales of corrosive substances to under-18s.

Survivor Adele Bellis told BBC Radio 5 live that those who carry out acid attacks should face a life sentence.

Between November 2016 and April 2017 there were 408 attacks, of which about 21% were committed by under-18s.


Speaking to the BBC News Channel, actor and youth campaigner Theo Johnson said there needed to be more education about the consequences of carrying out acid attacks.

"People don't look for the future, so they'll do something today and not think about the lifetime effects of it happening."

Ms Rudd said the government was sending a message that "the cowards who use these [acids] as weapons will not escape the full force of the law".

The new legislation would make it an offence to possess a corrosive substance in public.

An individual caught with the substance would have to prove they had good reason for possessing it.

If a person is caught twice with acid, they would serve a minimum six-month sentence if over the age of 18.

At this year's Conservative Party conference, the home secretary announced plans to ban sales of the substance to under-18s, saying that acid attacks were "absolutely revolting".

Recent years have seen a number of high-profile acid attacks across the UK.

Scarred for life

Adele Bellis was waiting for a bus to work on 14 August 2014 when her life was changed forever.

A man paid £500 by the then 22-year-old beautician's abusive ex-boyfriend, Anthony Riley, hurled sulphuric acid at her from a sports drink bottle as she stood at the bus stop.

The corrosive substance destroyed her right ear and scarred the right side of her head and neck, her arm and chest.

Image source, PA/Yui Mok

The government's plan would see those caught simply carrying a corrosive substances face a mandatory six-month term for a second offence.

But acid attacks are usually charged as grievous bodily harm (GBH), which can carry a life sentence.

Riley was later jailed for life, with a minimum term of 13 years, after being convicted of conspiracy to commit GBH.

Jason Harrison, then 28, who admitted carrying out the attack in Lowestoft, Suffolk, was sentenced to four years for the same crime.

Ms Bellis told BBC Radio 5 live the government's plan was "a start" but there was currently "no consistency" in sentences for those carrying out attacks.

She said: "It's going to get worse if nothing gets done. How many acid attacks does it need for something to be done about it?

"There is no consistency in the acid attack sentences. I think that acid attacks should have a separate law. At the minute you just get done for GBH.

"There should be a separate acid attack charge and I believe there should be a life sentence in there, whether you chuck it or you conspired in it.

"We are scarred for life."

Home Office minister Sarah Newton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We treat it as seriously as we treat knives.

"So we are introducing this possession offence with a similar regime to that of knives so that if you are caught a second time in possession you have a mandatory sentence."

Detective Superintendent Matt West, the Metropolitan Police's lead on corrosive-based crime, told the programme that 20% of crimes involving acids were robberies.

John Biggs, elected Labour mayor of the London borough of Tower Hamlets, said there was a "massive fear" of acid attacks.

He told BBC Radio 5 live he wanted more to be done, including looking at reintroducing a registration system for sellers of harmful substances.

Media caption,
What should you do in case of a chemical burn?

Sales could also be restricted to people using credit or debit cards, so their identity is known, Mr Biggs added.

Asked whether the proposals risked increasing controversial "stop and search" tactics by police, he said: "Stop and search is a complicated issue and of course there has been a backlash of people feeling it's a way of labelling and targeting particular communities.

"But when I talk to the parents of people who have been injured, from whatever cause, they want bad people to be stopped.

"So it is an area where we know there is a gang problem, I think there is a wider social acceptance that we should be scrutinising people's behaviour."

'I've lost my eyelids three times'

In 2014 Andreas Christopheros, from Truro in Cornwall, was attacked at his front door with sulphuric acid in a case of mistaken identity.

He was left with permanent facial scarring and he remains blind in one eye.

David Phillips, 49, from Hastings, Sussex, admitted assault causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

Image caption,
Andreas Christopheros was a victim of mistaken identity

Mr Christopheros said: "[The acid attack] impacted every aspect of my life.

"From the moment I've woken up, every morning it takes me about half an hour to regain my sight.

"I've lost my eyelids three times now from the contractions of the scars."

The proposed legislation on acid would mirror the 'two strikes' rule which makes knife possession an offence.

The Home Office is also considering criminal proceedings against online retailers who deliver knives to a buyer's home.

It is hoped the measure would curb the sale of blades to children or teenagers.

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