Alarm as acid attacks soar by 69% with more women than men affected for first time

Alarm as acid attacks soar by 69% with more women than men affected for first time

Acid attacks have soared by 69 per cent in an alarming reversal of declining rates with more women than men affected for the first time, a charity has warned.

Data from police forces showed 710 violent acid attacks were recorded in 2022 in England and Wales – up from 421 the previous year, Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) found.

The charity, which tracks annual acid attacks via Freedom of Information laws, fears the real total could be even higher after four forces failed to respond to their request.

It also found the number of female victims exceeds male victims for the first time in a “worrying trend” of increased acid attacks on women.

Some 339 women were targeted versus 317 men in 2022, while the victim’s gender was not recorded in 48 cases. This is up from 172 women the year before, when 227 men were targeted.

Television presenter and model Katie Piper appeared in a documentary to raise awareness about the impact of acid attacks after she was targeted by her ex-boyfriend and an accomplice in 2008. She went on to start a foundation in her name to support survivors.

ITV recently tackled the topic in Coronation Street, after it detailed an attempted acid attack on character Daisy Midgeley, which saw another character Ryan Connor step in the way to take the brunt of the attack.

ASTI, which is launching a prevention initiative targeting high-risk young people, estimates that acid attacks cost Britain £44million in 2022, with a single attack costing £63,000 on average – including medical and psychosocial support, in addition to the costs to the police, judicial and penal systems.

Katie Piper was an awarded an OBE for her services to charity supporting burns and acid attack survivors (PA Wire)
Katie Piper was an awarded an OBE for her services to charity supporting burns and acid attack survivors (PA Wire)

Although the surge in attacks has not exceeded the previous peak of 941 recorded attacks in 2017, it comes after cases had been steadily declining for several years.

This has been partly attributed to tougher laws introduced in the Offensive Weapons Bill, which was granted Royal Assent in 2019, which made it an offence to possess a corrosive substance in a public place and put stricter controls on the sale of acids and other corrosive substances.

However, experts are calling for increased awareness among retailers and at all levels of the supply chain.

ASTI executive director Jaf Shah told The Independent: “We have introduced tighter controls around the purchasing of particularly severe corrosive substances, yet evidently perpetrators are still managing to get access to them.

“That raises questions over how sufficiently robust are the sales controls or access to dangerous chemicals. We need to look at what can be further improved to restrict accessibility.

“I think we need to be having discussions with retailers and manufacturers. Are these perpetrators obtaining access from shops online? Where are they sourcing these substances from?”

He warned retailers and manufacturers that corrosives have “dangerous implications when deployed as a weapon”, adding: “They need to review their internal systems to ensure any dangerous substance is in a controlled environment.”

Mr Shah also noted attacks had increased most in areas of economic deprivation, with the biggest rise in the northwest of England.

He called for Government investment in tackling the “root causes” of crime, amid fears low-level offending can lead to escalating violence and increased acid attacks.

‘Coronation Street’ character Ryan (Ben Thompson) in the aftermath of his acid attack (ITV)
‘Coronation Street’ character Ryan (Ben Thompson) in the aftermath of his acid attack (ITV)

The charity has launched Project Irreversible, which will be delivered in workshops with the help of a digital graphic novel, to educate young people about the devastating impact of acid-based crime, which can render survivors blind, disabled and severely scarred, while perpetrators face lengthy custodial sentences.

“It’s not unusual for a survivor to undergo 50, 70 or even 100 procedures over five or seven years,” Mr Shah told The Independent.

“That is not even taking into account the trauma – with ongoing issues around depression and severe cases of social isolation because severe facial scarring for many survivors.

“Changes of appearance in a very severe and very sudden way elicits a strong psychological response.”

Mr Shah added: The UK has the highest number of recorded attacks in the world, and the need for prevention is greater than ever. We know that the best way to end acid violence is to prevent it from happening in the first place, by addressing its root causes.”

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alexis Boon QPM, National Police Chiefs Council lead for corrosive substances, said: The use of corrosive substances to commit crime devastates lives, often inflicting serious injuries and causing psychological trauma to survivors that will last a lifetime.

“Through education, we need to make sure people understand the appalling consequences of such crimes, to those subject to such attacks, their families, and the perpetrator themselves, in order to prevent these crimes happening in the first place.”

A Home Office spokesman added: “The government has strengthened the law on corrosives through the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 including prohibiting the sale and delivery of corrosive products to under 18s and making it an offence to possess corrosive substances in a public place.

“We are also working closely with partners to tackle the use of acids and other corrosives in violent attacks including with the police on the enforcement response to prevent and deter attacks and also with retailers to restrict access to acids and other harmful corrosive products.”