The MP who will lead a Commons debate on acid attacks has said such assaults are on the rise because would-be offenders see them as easier and more effective than knife crime.
Stephen Timms spoke to talkRADIO after a spate of acid attacks across east London on Thursday night. Two men are alleged to have stolen a moped and thrown the corrosive substance over bystanders in Hackney, Islington, and Stoke Newington.
Timms will lead the debate on Monday and he told Julia Hartley-Brewer that this was actually prompted by a similar attack last month in Beckton, part of his East Ham constituency, in which a Muslim model and her cousin were left disfigured.
In the wake of this attack, Timms said, "there’s been a huge reaction amongst my constituents with a fair number of people wondering if it’s safe to walk the streets."
Timms said he will propose three law changes on Monday, in the hope that the Home Office introduces them. He explained the proposals as follows:
"I think carrying acid should be an offence, in the same way carrying a knife is. We do not want people wandering around carrying sulphuric acid.
"Secondly, the purchase of sulphuric acid should require a license. At the moment, i’m suggesting escalating it to a higher category to ensure this happens.
"Third, I want the Home Office to review sentencing guidelines where people are convicted of carrying out an acid attack to ensure the sentences are tougher and more consistent across the country."
In the light of yesterday's news, Timms said: "The thing that frightens people is the use of acid for hate crimes. Met police figures show there have only been two of those, the vast majority are people using acid to commit burglary, assault, or other gang strife kind of crimes.
"I think what’s happened is using acid has become less risky than using a knife or gun, and so they use it for this reason. I want the home office to make it more risky to use acid, that they’ll be caught and prosecuted for carrying it around.
“People being disfigured for life, losing their sight - these are very serious attacks and it requires swift action from the Government to limit the increase we’ve seen over the last two or three years.”
Timms suggested there’s a chance the idea may have been imported. However “on the whole, it does seem to be between gang members, people wanting to carry out robberies - they’re not the kind of crimes being carried out in other countries.
“People who want to conduct crimes are realising there are some benefits for them to carry acid over knives and it needs to be changed.
“Sulphuric acid is readily available, because it’s used to unblock drains. But you’re right, there are other things which can be used to disfigure people, but sulphuric acid is probably the worst.
“We’ll know when we hear what the minister has to say. I know they’ve been thinking about it. Where they’ve got to, I don’t know, and my purpose is to find out.
“There’s a clear analogy between knives and acid for this reason. If people carry it around in streets, there’s a problem and we need to get to grips with this."