Home Office to review sentencing in effort to curb rise in acid attacks
The government has promised new measures to combat acid attacks after a spate of assaults across London, including urging courts to impose life terms where appropriate and possibly seeking age checks for those buying corrosive chemicals.
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said an overhaul of current guidelines would ensure those who used noxious liquids as a weapon felt “the full force of the law”. “Life sentences must not be reserved for acid attack survivors,” she wrote in the Sunday Times.
Proposals to ensure acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons are among the changes included in the shake-up.
Asked about jail terms, the junior Home Office minister Sarah Newton said yesterday that judges already had the power to impose life sentences for the most serious cases of grievous bodily harm.
“We are definitely doing a review of sentencing and are definitely involved with the [Crown Prosecution Service] to make sure that people understand the powers they’ve got, understand the measures that can be in place and making sure that those penalties truly reflect the severity of the injuries, even a life sentence for some people,” she told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “I quite understand when victims say they feel the perpetrators themselves should have a life sentence.”
Last Thursday five people were targeted in north and east London in less than 90 minutes in what police suspect were connected attacks. A 16-year-old boy has been charged with 15 offences, including grievous bodily harm and possession of an item to discharge a noxious substance.
The Home Office has said it will work with police and the Ministry of Justice to assess whether powers available to the courts are sufficient.
Rudd wrote: “I am announcing an action plan to tackle acid attacks. It will include a wide-ranging review of the law enforcement and criminal justice response, of existing legislation, of access to harmful products and of the support offered to victims.
“We will also make sure that those who commit these terrible crimes feel the full force of the law,” she added. “We will seek to ensure that everyone working within the criminal justice system, from police officers to prosecutors, has the powers they need to punish severely those who commit these appalling crimes.”
Possession of acid or other corrosive substances with the intention to do harm can already be treated as possession of an offensive weapon under the Prevention of Crime Act and carries a four-year maximum penalty. The CPS’s guidance to prosecutors will be reviewed to ensure it makes clear acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons, and what is needed to prove intent.
Newton said the Home Office planned to come up with a comprehensive response. “There is a licensing regime but the problem is that a lot of the chemicals that are being used are under your sink, are in your bathroom, these are readily available. So we are working with retailers and manufacturers …to see, can we reduce some of the strength of the cleaning materials, with retailers should we be asking for age verification checks … ?”
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said the review aimed to ensure those found guilty of acid attack crimes would feel the full force of the law