After spate of acid attacks, UK gets tough with longer sentencing guidelines
Criminals caught with acid can expect to receive the same prison sentences as those convicted of carrying a knife, according to new judicial guidelines that have come into effect.
Life sentences could be handed down to those who carry out “life-changing” acid attacks, even if they miss their target or fail to inflict serious harm on their victim.
Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said there was a strong public interest in authorising the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to give out the strongest punishments to acid attackers.
“You can’t just expect to carry acid around without an excuse. It counts as an offensive weapon just as much as a knife or a screwdriver could be,” she said.
“We are very conscious of the impact of this crime and how there has been a recent spate of it so we are very keen to make sure that we do prosecute it and the court has the right sentencing powers.”
Public concern has been mounting in London after a spate of acid attacks, some of which have caused serious injuries and disfigurement.
The number of crimes using acid or other “noxious substances” has more than doubled in London over the last three years, according to official data. There have also been notable increases in other parts of England. In the capital, the number of incidents rose from 186 between April 2014 and March 2015 to 397 in the same period in 2016-17.
Corrosive chemicals have been used in robberies, gang violence and unprovoked attacks. Moped riders have expressed particular concern after delivery riders were targeted by acid attackers for their vehicles.
Critics have said rules on possessing acid are too lax and have called for them to be strengthened.
Saunders told the London Evening Standard: “We are recognising that there’s been an increase in this type of crime, we are recognising the serious nature of it, the impact it can have on individuals who suffer from having corrosive fluids or acid sprayed at them, which can be life-changing.”
Prosecutions needed to act as a deterrent, she added. People carrying acid would be treated as if they were carrying an offensive weapon, which carries a maximum four-year sentence.
Life sentences will be given to those who carry out acid attacks, even if they miss their target or their victim escapes serious injury, Saunders said.
“We are giving the courts the widest possible sentencing power they could possibly want, which is up to life,” she said.
A CPS spokesperson said on Friday: “The CPS has today published interim guidance for prosecutors on the appropriate handling of cases involving acid attacks.
“This follows the home secretary’s announcement on 16 July and covers the appropriate charges and public interest considerations in such cases.
“This will form part of the wider review of guidance on offensive weapons, knives, bladed and pointed articles, and the offences against the person charging standard that was already under way.”
In July, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, announced an action plan on “horrific” acid attacks, which called on the CPS to review its sentencing for offenders. She also said the Poisons Act 1972 would be reviewed to ensure it covered enough chemicals and noxious substances.