Kingston’s unreported acid attack crisis

Data obtained from the Met Police shows that in the ten years from 2008 to 2018, acid attacks in London increased by 430 per cent, from 59 cases to 313.

Worse, my home borough of Kingston – otherwise one of the safest in London – is among the worst in the city for acid attacks. My research shows a precipitous increase in these offences in Kingston, from three in 2015 to 13 last year – down from a worrying 20 in 2018. This makes Kingston the joint fifth worst borough in the city. As recently as 2018 it was the second worst borough in London. For context, neighbouring Richmond had five offences in 2019 and only one in 2018. Sutton had three in 2018 and 2019. Hounslow only had one in 2019.

Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats, who run Kingston Council and hold both Parliamentary seats covering the borough, show no signs of understanding that this problem even exists. At their party conference in 2019 they adopted a policy opposing mandatory prison sentences for those caught carrying acid. Ed Davey, Member of Parliament for Kingston & Surbiton and LibDem leadership candidate, doubled down on his party’s policy. In a series of tabled amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill 2019 he sought to reduce the penalties for selling acid to youths and attempted to eliminate mandatory prison sentences for second convictions of carrying corrosive substances.

Shocked by these findings, I have written to Kingston’s Chief Superintendent Sally Benatar to ask her several important questions including:

  • Does the Metropolitan Police have a view on why Kingston has such a bad problem relative to other boroughs?
  • Is the Metropolitan Police tracking whereabouts in Kingston these offences are being committed, and by whom?
  • Finally, and most importantly, in response to my question the Metropolitan Police advised there is no local plan in place to deal with corrosive fluid offences in Kingston. Given that we clearly have a significant local problem, isn’t it vital to develop such a plan?

It is impossible to overstate the horror of acid attacks. Victims are left with life-changing physical injuries often requiring years of specialist treatment. The mental scars are far deeper and longer lasting. Survivors talk of battling anxiety, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Acid Survivors Trust states that ‘the path to recovery is long, complex and very painful at both a physical and mental level’ – exactly what the criminals who carry out these attacks intend.

Acid is an offensive weapon – it is carried solely to maim, disfigure, and terrorise its victims. It is not carried for self-defence. Those who carry it have made the decision to cause great mental and physical harm. They must be punished for that decision.

While a nasty acid problem developed in his own back yard, Ed Davey sought to water down the law. I am curious to understand whether, in formulating his party’s policy on sentencing for acid offences, Ed Davey either knew a problem existed in his own constituency and chose not to mention it, or was entirely unaware that Kingston has become one of the worst boroughs in our city for violent acid offences.

To me it is obvious: if you choose to carry acid, you must go to prison.