True scale of acid attacks hidden as victims too scared to come forward, police say

Telegraph Reporters
Arthur Collins, wanted for questioning in relation to an acid attack, poses with girlfriend Ferne McCann - Instagram

Hundreds of acid attacks reported to police each year may only be a fraction of the real total with many victims too afraid of reprisals to come forward, police have warned.

A senior police officer has appealed for all victims to report the crime, praising the bravery of one man who discussed his ordeal in a radio interview.

It comes as speculation grows that Arthur Collins, the boyfriend of The Only Way Is Essex star Ferne McCann who is wanted by police in connection to an acid attack which left two people blinded in one eye, has fled the country.

Arthur Collins, 25, of Hertfordshire is wanted for questioning by police in connection with an attack on a nightclub in Dalston

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton of  Suffolk Police, the National Police Chief Council’s spokeswoman on corrosive attacks, told The Today programme this morning: “I do fear that this is a hidden crime and that some of the victims are in fear of reprisal and don’t come forward.”

In the capital alone the number of acid attacks increased from 261 in 2015 to 454 last year, a rise of 74 per cent. Nationwide figures suggest that assaults involving corrosive substances have risen by 30 per cent in the last two years.

But three quarters of police investigations had to be wound down either because the perpetrators could not be identified or because the victims were unwilling to press charges.

Arthur Collins, 25, of Hertfordshire is wanted for questioning by police in connection with an attack on a nightclub in Dalston

ACC Kearton said acid attacks cause lasting physical and emotional scarring, but warned it was not easy to regulate the sale of the household items often used by those who carry out such attacks.

She said: “It is a case of working with the retailers to understand what some of the restrictions are that can be practically put into place so that those who are legitimately purchasing these materials can go ahead with their business.”

Today we report that Arthur Collins, who is wanted for questioning after 20 people were injured when corrosive liquid was sprayed at Mangle nightclub in Dalston on Easter Monday, may be in Spain or Ireland.

Isobella and Prue Fraser. Isobella was injured in the incident at Mangle nightclub Credit: Facebook

Collins’ girlfriend Ferne McCann became a household name after appearances on the Only Way is Essex.

Detective Inspector Lee McCullough from Hackney’s criminal investigation department, said: "I am continuing to appeal to Arthur Collins to hand himself in so that we can talk to him about the incident in the nightclub. I would also urge anyone who knows of his whereabouts to contact police.

"Equally, anyone found harbouring those wanted for questioning by police can expect a knock at the door and could well find themselves under arrest.”

He added: "We now have 20 people suffering from the effects of an acidic substance being sprayed in a confined space in a busy nightclub.

"All have burn related injuries. The noxious substance used has not yet been confirmed but samples retrieved from the scene have been sent for analysis.”

Victim Sophie Hall, 21, said: “It was about one o'clock and we were about to leave the club. I heard a hissing noise and smoke started to fill the room.

“After the smoke went off the liquid hit us. There was a sense of complete panic, people were screaming. The pain is indescribable. It feels like your skin is eating itself. Police told us it was drain fluid.”

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