The London Acid Attack Epidemic

At about 7.00 pm last night, Tuesday 25th July, there was yet another acid attack. It was two young men who were attacked on Roman Road in Bethnal Green, East London. They ran screaming in pain into an off licence asking to be drenched in water. The shopkeeper has stated that their skin was peeling off and their clothes melting, before his eyes, like some ‘70’s horror film from the likes of John Carpenter or George Romero. Emergency services were obviously dispatched and there is footage freely available on the internet showing them being doused with hoses by the London Fire Brigade.

Since 2010 there have been over 1800 attacks of this sort and they are increasing. A 70% rise on figures for 2015/2016.

Historically acid was used as a revenge or honour punishment, primarily against women. It has seen great usage in South Asia, on the Indian subcontinent when a woman rejects an offer of marriage. There are also stories of it being used if the suitor (or his family) feel that the dowry is insufficient.

It was first recorded in Bangladesh in 1967 and also in India in 1982. Before that in 1915 on October 17th it was thrown over Prince Leopold Clement of Saxe-Coburg by his mistress! Traditionally there was under reporting of these crimes, possibly linked to the associated shame so figures from those earlier times leading up to the present may not be accurate.

But now, as in the Bethnal Green attack, data suggests 60% of the victims are male. A 60/40 split as opposed to 80/20 female bias and it appears to have been hijacked by young street gangs, especially in London.

Jaf Shah of the Acid Survivors Trust International has said Newham has had a greater density of attacks. It also has a high density of people from South Asia, this may or may not be connected. There were 400 attacks in 2010 alone and he has said that gangs now use it as a weapon of choice.

The criminologist Dr Simon Harding also observes “It has been adopted by street gangs. There is anecdotal evidence that gangs are moving from knives  to acid in the wake of a crackdown on knife crime.” From the perpetrators perspective “it puts the victim into a permanent state of victim status.”. He goes on to say “50 years ago in [East London] scores were settled by a fist fight, five years ago by a knife fight- now we are in darker territory.”

DCI Mike West of the Metropolitan Police is in charge of overseeing ‘acid based crime’ and has stated recently that 25% are robbery connected but 60% are used in direct assaults.

Earlier this month on 13th July, a 16 year old was charged with 15 acid attacks. They spanned just 90 minutes and it prompted the the London Major Sadiq Khan to say on 17th, a few days later, that there should be zero tolerance for this sort of crime. What has taken him so long to speak about it? Much less act.

Paltan, a volunteering network started by the Stop Acid campaign has data  showing the attacks in India over a 2013- 2015 period combined. UttarPradesh had 77 compared to London with 431. [Metropolitan Police figures] which draws the stark picture of where we are right now.


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