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The lethal ‘face melter’ acid for sale online - without any checks

PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:03 31 August 2017

This drain unblocker bought on Amazon contains 96 per cent proof sulphuric acid - which can cause horrendous injuries if used as a weapon

This drain unblocker bought on Amazon contains 96 per cent proof sulphuric acid - which can cause horrendous injuries if used as a weapon

Reporter Emma Youle

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.

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 Post 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.

This t-shirt began to discolour and turn brown as soon as the strong acid drain unblocker was poured on itThis t-shirt began to discolour and turn brown as soon as the strong acid drain unblocker was poured on it

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 Post 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.

Currently the sale of acids and bleaches, from everyday household cleaning products to industrial strength drain cleaners, are completely unregulated.

The t-shirt was left badly scorched and burned by the acid and completely dissolved in placesThe t-shirt was left badly scorched and burned by the acid and completely dissolved in places

It is perfectly legal for any teenager to walk into a shop or go online and purchase these products, although some councils have issued guidance on responsible sales following a spiralling numbers of attacks.

Jaf Shah, executive director of Acid Survivors Trust International, based in east London, said he was “sadly not surprised” the Post was able to buy 96 per cent proof acid online.

“I think online retailers really need to look into their responsibilities as retailers,” 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 drain unblocker was also poured onto a lamb steakThe drain unblocker was also poured onto a lamb steak

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.

Within 10 minutes the meat was badly blackened by the acidWithin 10 minutes the meat was badly blackened by the acid

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.

In 2002 Bangladesh banned the open sale of acid and imposed stringent punishment for offenders, which has seen the number of attacks fall by 15 to 20 per cent a year in that country.

The drain unblocker used by the Post contains 96 per cent proof sulphuric acid ALL PICTURES: ArchantThe drain unblocker used by the Post contains 96 per cent proof sulphuric acid ALL PICTURES: Archant

Last month MP Stephen Timms told Parliament that retailers themselves support tougher legislation, speaking at an adjournment debate on acid attacks in the Commons.

Offences London-wide almost doubled from 2015 to 2016.

There were 58 acid attacks in Barking and Dagenham in 2016, the second highest number in the capital after Newham.

Det Supt West told the Post 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.

Amazon declined to comment.

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Council’s tough stance: ‘Acid convicts could lose council homes’

Barking and Dagenham Council may evict people convicted of an acid attack from council houses and has warned all retailers in the borough to be vigilant around acid sales.

Leader of the council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, told the Post the council is taking a “zero tolerance approach”.

He said: “In addition to the role that the criminal justice system has to play in identifying and prosecuting offenders, we are exploring what action we could take when those who are convicted happen to be council tenants. This could even include eviction.

“When we have thousands of honest, law abiding residents crying out for a council home, it is only right those who break our laws should face sanctions.”

The council’s trading standards team has written to all retailers in the borough asking them to be vigilant around sales and shopkeepers have been asked to keep corrosive products displayed behind the counter and to treat them as an “age-restricted product”.

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Acid attacks in Barking and Dagenham

■ Barking and Dagenham has the second highest number of acid attacks in London after Newham.

■ From 2010 to March 2017 there were 157 attacks involving corrosive fluids in the borough.

■ And the number of attacks in the borough doubled from 29 in 2015 to 58 in 2016.

■ London-wide, there were 454 acid attacks last year.

■ Attacks in Barking and Dagenham include a moped driver being squirted with a ‘noxious substance’ during an attempted robbery in Ballards Road, Dagenham in July and three boys aged 12, 13 and 15 arrested on suspicion of spraying three other pupils at Sydney Russell School in February. No charges have been brought in either case.

NEXT WEEK: Met chief reveals why acid is now a weapon of choice and how the force is tackling corrosive crime


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