Home Of­fice to re­view sen­tenc­ing in ef­fort to curb rise in acid at­tacks

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Pe­ter Walker Po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

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

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