How we were able to buy ‘face melter’ acid online in just two minutes
- Credit: Reporter Emma Youle
This is the “face melter” acid that can burn and maim people in seconds – and has been used in a wave of shocking attacks across the capital.
The Recorder bought three bottles of the super-strength drain unblocker via Amazon this week for less than £15 – and was even offered free delivery.
Similar products are widely available online.
Placing the order took less than two minutes and we were not subject to any age checks.
Yet if the chemical was weaponised, by simply putting it into a drinks bottle and throwing it at someone, it would inflict devastating injuries.
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Our own test showed the acid badly scorched and burned a T-shirt and left a meat steak charred.
A top police officer has said the ease with which the Recorder obtained the product “drives home the absolute need for change” around the sale of strong acids.
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“If you’re talking about sulphuric acids of 96 per cent proof – which is going to cause instant, horrendous injuries – then we need to look at regulation when it comes to licensing and buying it,” said Det Supt Mike West, the Metropolitan Police’s lead on corrosive based crime.
Currently the sale of acids and bleaches, from everyday household cleaning products to industrial strength drain cleaners, are completely unregulated.
Jaf Shah, executive director of Acid Survivors Trust International, based in east London, said he was “sadly not surprised” the Recorder was able to buy 96 per cent proof acid online.
“I think online retailers really need to look into their responsibilities,” he said. “If a perpetrator uses concentrated acid as a weapon and the intended victim is targeted on the face, then what you will see are life-long injuries for the survivor.”
Criminologist Dr Simon Harding, of Middlesex University, said it was shocking and an “absolute scandal” that these products are so widely available.
The cheap and easy supply of corrosive substances has led to demands for the government to act.
One of those supporting new legislation is acid attack victim Resham Khan.
She and a cousin had a noxious substance thrown in their faces in Beckton, and both suffered life-changing injuries.
Resham has backed a petition calling for a ban on buying acid without a licence, which has gathered half a million signatures.
In a letter to MPs on the change.org website, she said: “The person who attacked me didn’t want to just take away my face, he wanted to burn all aspects of my life. For this, I ask that the UK government introduce stricter punishment for those who choose to scorch innocent people.”
The consensus among experts is that strong acids, such as drain unblocker, should only be sold to those with a licence, and other household cleaning products should be available only to over 18s.
This would require a change in the law.
Acid attacks London-wide almost doubled from 2015 to 2016.
Redbridge is one of five east London boroughs at the centre of a rising number of acid attacks in the capital.
Det Supt West told the Recorder the Met is treating corrosive crime as seriously as gun and knife crime.
“The injuries are just horrific,” he said. “They will not be easily hidden by victims and it’s practically a life sentence for them. So that keeps all our minds focused in regard to the work that we’re doing.”
The Met chief is involved with senior officers, the Home Office and the British Retail Consortium on a piece of work to try and introduce voluntary agreements on the sale of corrosive substances.
An update on this is due in December and could be a precursor to a change in the law.
Hexeal Chemicals, the company that supplied the drain unblocker, said it would withdraw the product from market once current stocks are sold out.
Amazon declined to comment.
NEXT WEEK: Met chief reveals why acid is now a weapon of choice and how the force is tackling corrosive crime
Council takes tough stance on attacks
The leader of Redbridge Council has said the local authority is working with police to take a tough stance on acid attacks.
Cllr Jas Athwal, leader of the council, said: “In a population of nearly 300,000, there are one to two incidents of this nature every month in Redbridge. Even one of these incidents is too many.
“Any violent crime including the horrific use of noxious liquids is completely deplored.
“I have raised concerns with both the borough commander and deputy commissioner for police and we are working together closely to track down and bring to justice those responsible for these awful attacks.
“We totally condemn these attacks and I would like to reassure Redbridge residents that we are doing everything we can to put a stop to it.”
He asked anyone with information about acid attacks to contact police or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Acid attacks: The figures
- Redbridge had the fifth highest number of acid attacks in London from 2010 to 2017, after Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Tower Hamlets and Havering.
- Over this period there were 82 attacks involving corrosive fluids in the borough.
- Attacks in Redbridge include:
- A 16-year-old and a 47-year-old man were assaulted with a noxious substance in February this year as they sat in a car in Virginia Gardens, Barkingside, moments after an under-16s football match had finished.
- Three teens had a corrosive substance squirted into their faces in Wanstead High Street in June this year by a group of men. They were also punched.
- In August a burglar who sprayed acid at a woman in her Goodmayes home, causing her serious burns, admitted grievous bodily harm with intent and is due to be sentenced in September. His victim was in hospital for eight weeks.