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Substance Abuse

by Brian Sims
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

Worryingly, the UK now has one of the highest rates of acid attacks in the world. Upwards of 400 attacks were recorded in the four months to April last year alone. That’s an average of two episodes per day being recorded by police forces around the country. Worse still, senior officers believe these horrific crimes are not always being reported, meaning that the number of known assaults using corrosive substances may actually be just a fraction of the true total.

Importantly, some of the country’s biggest retailers and independent business leaders have now pledged not to sell the most harmful corrosive substances to those under 18 years of age. This move is part of a series of voluntary commitments proposed by the Government, which has now published the details of those commitments as well as a list of retailers who’ve already signed on the dotted line.

Waitrose, B&Q, Morrisons, Wickes, the Co-op, Screwfix and Tesco are among the major High Street brands to have signed the voluntary agreement on the responsible sale of corrosive substances. The British Independent Retailers Association has also begun encouraging all of its own members to comply.

The aforementioned voluntary agreement has been introduced now in order to ensure that immediate action is taken by retailers on a voluntary basis in advance of new legislation (including the ban on sales to those under 18 years of age) being brought before Parliament and put into effect.

This positive news emerges as the University of Leicester launches a major academic research project, commissioned by the Home Office, into the motivations of offenders who carry and use acid in violent attacks. Criminologists will now examine the motivations and decision-making processes behind people carrying and using acid as a weapon, the characteristics of offenders and their relationships with their victims and also how corrosive substances are purchased and transported.

Assistant chief constable Rachel Kearton, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on corrosive substance attacks, stated: “The use of acid to commit acts of violence is particularly abhorrent. The perpetrators aim to leave their victims with horrific and life-changing injuries. Undoubtedly, tackling the scourge of acid attacks requires a co-ordinated approach.”

As a responsible Regulator, the Security Industry Authority has just published salient advice notes for private security operatives and security businesses on the steps to be taken in the event of an acid attack. This follows an episode late last month when a G4S Cash and Valuables in Transit officer suffered serious injuries after having what was believed to be an ammonia-type substance sprayed in his face while going about his daily duties at the Barclays Bank branch in Brighouse, West Yorkshire.

Most of us would find it hard to believe that anyone could choose to throw acid over another individual, but it’s happening. The fervent hope is that the University of Leicester’s research will enable the authorities to improve understanding around why offenders are motivated to use acid as a weapon and, further, assist the prevention of these despicable attacks in the future.

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