Acid attacks and corrosive substances crimes up 75%, figures suggest

20 June 2024, 09:00 | Updated: 20 June 2024, 12:48

Acid attacks and other crimes involving corrosive substances soared by 75% last year - but just 8% of offenders ended up in court, new data suggests.

The figures, obtained through freedom of information requests to all police forces in the UK, show 1,244 offences were recorded in 2023, up from 710 the previous year.

Of those, 454, or more than a third (36%) involved physical attacks, while 790, almost two thirds (64%), included threats of attacks, carrying corrosive substances or other serious crimes - such as rape or robbery - involving acids or alkalis.

Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), which conducted the research, says the scale of the problem is likely to be much worse because Police Scotland did not provide data and such crimes are often not reported by victims.

The charity says that while acid attacks have in the past mainly been associated with male-on-male gang violence, they are increasingly linked to violence against women and girls.

"Our new data shows that acid violence is an escalating problem in our country, with women increasingly at risk," said the charity's executive director, Jaf Shah.

"With a new government soon in place, we are asking our leaders to take urgent action and stop these atrocious crimes, which leave victims forever scarred."

Earlier this year, Abdul Ezedi, from the Newcastle area, doused his former partner, a mother-of-two, with a corrosive alkali in an attack on her and her two children, aged eight and three, in Clapham, south London.

The 35-year-old's body was eventually pulled from the River Thames following a huge manhunt.

Half of the victims of all corrosive offences last year were women, according to the figures, with 502 female victims out of 1,001 where gender data was available, rising to 59% for threats of violence, with 326 female victims out of 552 involving threats of attacks or other serious crimes.

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It is the second consecutive year to see a rise in offences after a 69% year-on-year increase in 2022, following a slight decline in acid violence following the introduction of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to ASTI.

Only 8% of the 1,244 offences recorded last year resulted in a charge or summons and the charity says the data suggests many survivors live in fear of reprisals, with almost a third (32%) of cases identifying a suspect but further action not being supported by the victim.

Almost a fifth, or 18%, of all violent physical attacks involving acid or other chemicals were recorded by Northumbria Police followed by 72 recorded by the Metropolitan Police in London.

Professor Francisco Figueiredo, a professor of Ophthalmology at Newcastle University, said: "Over the last five years there has been a concerning rise in the incidence of acid attacks, especially in the North East of England. 80% of the victims are young Caucasian male and 90% of them are not reported to Northumbria Police. Ammonia is the most common chemical used in the North East of England area.

"Using noxious chemicals to cause harm, and ocular harm in particular, is becoming a popular mode of assault in the UK, and is a serious medical and social concern which requires further investigation to be able to increase public awareness, implement stricter regulations, better surveillance and means of prevention, as well as to provide adequate support to the victims."

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Attacks on people involving acids or other corrosives can result in huge distress and life-changing injuries.

"Under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, it is illegal to sell and deliver corrosive products to people under 18 and possess corrosive substances in public."