London Burning: Corrosive Substance Attacks in the U.K.


By Patrick Norén

With recorded corrosive substance attacks growing considerably in the 2010s, peaking in 2017, seeing a 69% rise from 2021 to 2022, and then seeing a further 75% rise in 2023, the United Kingdom has been called a “global hotspot” for acid attacks. CBNW Magazine Editor Patrick Norén investigates.

At approximately 7.25pm on January 31, 2024, in Clapham, south London, 35-year-old Adbul Ezedi threw a corrosive substance over a 31-year-old woman and her two young daughters, aged eight and three years old. Believed to have been targeted attack, it made national news and sparked a three-week long manhunt.

Having been last spotted on CCTV leaning over railings on Chelsea Bridge approximately four hours after the attack, the Metropolitan Police began searching the River Thames on February 10.

A body was found on February 20 near Tower Millennium Pier, with Commander Jon Savell announcing that they “strongly believed” the body to be Ezedi’s on account of “distinctive clothing” and “property found on his body”. An autopsy conducted on February 21 confirmed that Abdul Ezedi had drowned.

“I can’t see, I can’t see” 

Speaking to the BBC, one witness described the attack as “quite horrific”. After hearing a cry for help and a car crashing, a couple who lived on the road where the attack happened ran outside.

One man recounted: “We came outside and saw this guy and he took a girl out of the car and he slammed her to the ground twice…I chased him half way down the road, but I was in slippers so didn’t get very far. As I came back, that’s when I saw the woman who had been attacked… so I ran inside to get some water and just sprayed her down with water.”

The man’s partner, named only as Shannon, told the BBC that she ran over to help the child and carried her into her block of flats, at which point she saw her mum walking up the road saying, “I can’t see, I can’t see”.

Another woman said she saw the attacker lifting a young girl over his head and throwing her to the ground like a “ragdoll”, describing the incident as like a “horror movie”. Local resident Abdul said “people were just screaming everywhere, there were fifteen police cars and fire brigades, it was quite a stressful moment.”

Eight first responders – including three members of the public and five police officers – were admitted to hospital, and a total of 12 were injured including the mother and her two children. The Metropolitan Police issued a statement saying that the mother and younger child’s injuries could be “life-changing”; they also confirmed that the corrosive substance used was an alkali.

Abdul Shokoor Ezedi was seen on CCTV at a Tesco Express supermarket in north London about 70 minutes after the attack, © Met Police

A Global Hotspot for Corrosive Substance Attacks

Tragically, this was far from an isolated event. According to the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), the United Kingdom has the highest number of recorded corrosive substance attacks – more colloquially known as “acid attacks” – in the world. They can cause severe pain, potentially life-long scarring, visual impairment or even blindness, and emotional trauma, and require all or any combination of specialized burns treatment, eye, plastic, or reconstructive surgery, and therapy.

Acid attacks in England and Wales peaked in 2017 with 941 recorded cases, decreasing to 421 reported cases in 2021. However, 2022 saw a sharp 69% rise in the number of acid attacks across England and Wales, with 710 cases reported that year. In 2022, the region of Northumbria saw 183 acid attacks, while acid attacks in Greater London numbered 163. Merseyside saw the third highest number of attacks at 116.

Acid attacks in England and Wales then reached a new ignominious high in 2023, with figures released in June 2024 revealing 1,244 recorded alleged offences and representing a 75% rise on 2022’s figure. The real number is likely to be much higher, ASTI noted, due to Police Scotland not responding to freedom of information requests and non-reporting.

While the victims of acid attacks in the U.K. have historically been male, research from ASTI revealed 2022 to be the first year in which female victims outnumbered male victims, “reflecting a concerning rise in gender-based violence”. This was a pattern similarly mirrored in 2023, where 50% of victims of corrosive offences were women, rising to 59% for threats of offences.

ASTI estimates that only one acid attack costs the U.K. taxpayer approximately £63,000 (US$80,000), including medical and psychosocial support for the victim, and costs to the police, judicial, and penal systems. From 2017 to 2022, ASTI estimates that the financial cost of acid attacks to British society totaled around £200m. And this is not to mention the emotional trauma and socioeconomic consequences suffered by victims of corrosive substance attacks.

Only a couple of hours of basic internet research revealed that, since the start of 2024, there have been news reports of threats or suspected corrosive substance attacks in the U.K. on January 19, January 31February 24March 3March 18March 24March 31April 11April 19May 6, and May 17.

The liquids used in the attacks on April 11 and May 6 were confirmed be a “non-noxious cosmetic item” and “not harmful”, respectively. Despite this, in both cases a full emergency service response ensued.

Naturally, not all suspected corrosive substance attacks or threats are reported in local or national media. However, the discrepancy between the number of media reports of corrosive substance attacks and statistics given by ASTI reveals that such crimes are significantly underreported by media. Although the likes of Katie Piper – a writer, activist, and TV presenter who was herself a victim of an acid attack in 2008 – have played a leading role in British public education about the issue, an overall underreporting of attacks doubtless depresses knowledge of the extent of the problem in the country, and impacts public awareness of acid attack first aid procedures.

U.K. Government Minister for Safeguarding Sarah Dines met with acid attack survivors Katie Piper and Andreas Christopheros on October 23, 2023, © Crown Copyright

Attackers, Victims, Methods, and Motives

In a report commissioned by the Home Office and published in October 2021, researchers at the Department of Criminology at the University of Leicester found that household products such as bleach were the most frequently used corrosive, in 35% of cases, followed by ammonia (32%), and corrosives labeled as acid or alkali (12%). They noted that ammonia was most likely to feature in a robbery, while household bleach was most likely to be used in domestic violence offences.

The researchers found that 52% of corrosive crimes were between strangers, 13% were between friends or social acquaintances, 12% were between partners or ex-partners, and 6% were between criminal rivals. In terms of level of injury, 27% of cases resulted in serious injury, 65% of cases resulted in moderate injury, and 8% of cases resulted in no injury.

Meanwhile, interviews conducted with offenders revealed the main reasons to choose corrosives as a weapon as being their ease of availability, perceived “low-risk” of possession, ease of disguising possession, low financial costs, self-protection, and to enhance criminal reputation or self-presentation.

Offenders offered eight reasons as to why corrosives made an appealing weapon. These included being able to control the extent of physical harm exacted on their victims, adaptability, element of surprise, readiness, instant visual incapacitation, putting physical distance between the victim and offender, silence of use, and that such crime events usually end quickly.

Finally, the report suggested six potential preventative strategies to reduce the number of future corrosive substance attacks. These included “increasing the effort” necessary to obtain or purchase corrosives, increasing the risks of detection to those carrying corrosives, raising public awareness of the impact on victims and attackers, changing the design of bottles to prevent their use in corrosive crimes, tackling onset and risk factors for offenders, and using prison interventions.

Household bleach is one of the most frequently used corrosives in corrosive substance attacks in the U.K., © Adina Firestone

Recent U.K. Government Legislation

To curb the alarming rise in acid attacks and other crimes witnessed in the U.K. in the 2010s, in 2019 the U.K. Government passed the Offensive Weapons Act, which, among other things, legislated on the sale, delivery, and possession of corrosive substances.

In particular, it made it illegal to sell a corrosive product to people under 18, and to possess a corrosive product in a public place without a good reason or the lawful authority. It also amended the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow for searches of corrosive products if an offence has been committed, is being committed, or is likely to be committed.

Furthermore, the Control of Poisons and Explosives Precursors Regulations 2023 included some strong corrosives on a list of chemicals requiring an explosives precursors and poisons license to purchase, such as hydrochloric, phosphoric, and sulfuric acid.

In October 2023, the aforementioned acid attack survivor and activist, Katie Piper, met the then Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines, along with academics, survivors, charities, and industry to “discuss the horrible nature of acid attacks and consider what more can be done to protect our society”.

After the meeting, Ms. Piper said: “Over the past couple of years I have worked tirelessly to keep this topic on the government agenda. This is a very serious issue and statistics show violent crime using acid is increasing at an alarming and disturbing rate. Reducing accessibility and the sale of corrosive substances is absolutely crucial to reducing acid attacks, and the resulting horrendous impact it has on victims. Retailers, associations, and delivery gateways all have a colossal duty and responsibility to help us in our aims.”

On her part, Ms. Dines said that the government was “committed to doing all we can to prevent acid and other corrosive substances being used as weapons, and to ensure strong punishments for those who do so,” but admitted that “legislation alone will not prevent attacks”. This was why “conversations such as today’s are so important”, she added.

Acid attack guidance issued in 2017, © NHS England

What to Do in the Event of an Acid Attack

Responding to the rise in acid attacks in the U.K., in 2017 the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, the British Burn Association, and NHS England issued three-word guidance to follow should you witness or be a victim of an acid attack: reportremoverinse.

Witnesses or victims should first report the attack by calling emergency services as soon as possible. Contaminated clothing must then be carefully removed, and skin immediately rinsed in running water.

Patrick Norén is the Editor of CBNW Magazine.

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