How we were able to buy lethal ‘face melter’ acid online in two minutes
- Credit: Archant photographer
This is the lethal “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.
Our own test showed the acid badly scorched and burned a T-shirt and left a meat steak charred.
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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.
“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.
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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 as they drove to her 21st birthday party in June, 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.
Offences London-wide almost doubled from 2015 to 2016.
Havering had 108 acid attacks from 2010 to March 2017 - the third highest number 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 a tough stance
Havering Council has vowed to work with police and retailers in the borough to take a tough stance on acid crime.
Cllr Osman Dervish, cabinet member for community safety, said: “These are hideous offences and I’m pleased to see that there are harsher sentences for those who carry out such a callous and terrible crime.
“We will be working with borough retailers and partners around the suspicious sales of corrosive substances.
“Thankfully, we haven’t had any of these incidents in local bars and nightclubs. However, we are working with the Metropolitan Police to host borough-wide seminars that will provide guidance for bars and nightclubs in Havering.”
Acid attacks: The figures
- Havering had the third highest number of acid attacks in London from 2010 to 2017, after Newham and Barking and Dagenham.
- Over this period there were 108 attacks involving corrosive fluids in the borough.
- And the number of attacks in the borough increased three-fold from seven in 2015 to 25 in 2016.
- London-wide, there were 454 acid attacks last year.
- Attacks in Havering include:
- In 2013 Liam Sibbons, 16, turned up on the doorstep of Tara Quigley’s home in Romford and squirted industrial acid at her. She suffered burns to her right arm, shoulder, chest, neck and face. It is thought the attack was a case of mistaken identity.
- This year the Recorder reported on seven acid attacks in three weeks in February, including one that left a man fearing he would lose the sight in his left eye. Attacks are understood to have taken place across the borough, including in McDonald’s, South Street, Romford and on a roadside in Rainham.