Carrying acid could earn four years in jail under tough rules to stop attacks

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Anyone who carries acid could face up to four years in prison or risks a life sentence if they use it to attack someone, under tough new rules for prosecutors.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), against the backdrop of horrifying acid attacks, has issued updated interim guidance which for the first time explicitly refers to acid or corrosive substances.

Possession of an offensive weapon or threatening a person with an offensive weapon, which each come with a maximum four-year prison term, are among the "most appropriate" charges which can be brought.

Prosecutors have also been told to consider charges which have a maximum life sentence such as causing grievous bodily harm with intent or throwing or applying corrosive fluid on a person with intent to burn, maim, disfigure or disable or to do some grievous bodily harm.

A CPS spokesman said the guidance seeks to provide information "on the appropriate handling of cases involving 'acid' attacks".

He added: "This will form part of the wider review of guidance on 'Offensive Weapons, Knives, Bladed and Pointed Articles, and the Offences against the Person Charging Standard' that was already under way."

The CPS believe there is a strong public interest in prosecuting offences of acid or corrosive substance attacks.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders told the Evening Standard: " You can't just expect to carry acid around without an excuse. It counts as an offensive weapon, just as much as a knife or a screwdriver could be."

In a spate of acid attacks last month, five separate male victims - all on mopeds and including a fast-food delivery driver - were allegedly targeted by two moped-riding attackers in north and east London.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey also told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee in July there were 455 acid offences recorded in London last year, with 63% being assaults.

He said officers were looking at potential links between London gangs and a recent spike in acid attacks, but cautioned that the evidence was limited.

He said 23% were related to robberies and the rest were criminal damage, while the majority of victims were aged between 15 and 29 and nearly a third were Asian.

"About 80% of the victims and about 82% of the suspects are male, so it's a predominantly male-pattern behaviour," Mr Mackey said.

The guidance explains that acid and corrosive substances such as bleach or ammonia may be used as a weapon. Victims of hate crime, so-called honour-based violence, domestic abuse and revenge attacks by gangs have all been targeted, according to the guidance.

It states: "Acid and corrosive substance attacks have a devastating effect on victims. And when thrown on to the victim's body - usually their face - cause the skin and flesh to melt, sometimes exposing and dissolving the bones below.

"The long-term consequences of acid or corrosive substance attacks may include blindness, permanent scarring of the face and body, and social and psychological difficulties.

"Acid and other corrosive substances are becoming a preferred weapon of offenders carrying out criminal activity, due to it being easy to obtain, cheap and difficult to trace back to the perpetrator."