homeFriday 20th July 2018

Call for legal reform in wake of acid attacks

Philip Harris09/08/2017 - 15:58

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Corrosive liquids are easily available
Corrosive liquids are easily available

Former police officer turned EHO Philip Harris outlines the need for stricter controls on the sale of chemicals in the wake of a spate of acid attacks.   

As a result of the acid attacks that occurred in a nightclub in East London in May of this year, I arranged to give a brief presentation to the local Crawley Pub Watch attended by the licensees of the local pubs clubs and restaurants.

The presentation centred upon what steps to take in case of such an attack, unlike other attacks the use of chemicals are a hazard not only to the victim but also those going to his or her assistance. The risk remains in the form of a corrosive fluid that could be either a strong acid or an alkali, which would have similar results.

The presentation was only a short distance from the office so I walked via the local shops to try to buy these liquids as examples. I allowed myself an hour but the first retail store I visited had all the ‘armoury’ on sale on the bottom shelf of the public display.

This included caustic soda granules ready to dissolve into water, liquid ammonia and what was termed Rhino Drain Unblocker - a liquid shown on the label as a ‘high strength industrial product’. The label also stated ‘Bulldozes through pretty much everything. Grease and fat, hair and soap, food waste…’ The basic components of any person in the street.

The product is described as a ‘sulphuric acid based’ with no other chemicals listed on the label. The warning label states: ‘Handle with extreme care, can cause severe burns, recommended strictly for trade & professional use’.

This appears to be a very strong sulphuric acid product with clear labels that indicates this product if misused is liable to cause serious injury with long lasting consequences. Recommending on one hand that it is intended for strictly use by the trade and professional use but still for sale by retail to any person who wishes to purchase it accessible to young customers who may find it difficult to reach the product.

According to the store manager, the company national shop floor plan calls for these products to be placed on the shelf closest to the floor. Handy for shorter people or those in buggies. Note from the photograph how the product is prewrapped in a sealed plastic bag to make access more difficult.

There must be an improvement in the legislation covering corrosive chemicals. These changes should include restricting their display in retail stores with control by staff plus perhaps an age restriction with ID required to purchase certain products containing specified corrosive chemicals.

What for many years have been innocent household chemicals are now part of the armoury of those willing to cause serious permanent injury to others. These products are not intended as weapons and are not covered by existing legislation to combat their use in crime. Additions should be considered to existing legislation concerning the carrying of weapons such that the person must have a reasonable excuse or lawful authority to carry certain corrosive chemicals. It will then be up to those carrying it to provide justification for carrying it.

Philip Harris, principal EHO at Crawley Borough Council, is the author of guidance on acid attacks for his local area and surrounding boroughs.    

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