Acid attacks: Life sentences for perpetrators is a 'knee jerk' reaction, says senior Met police officer

Government calls for new legislation that would see tougher sentencing for the perpetrators of acid attacks is a “knee jerk” reaction and will not provide a sustainable solution, a senior Metropolitan police officer has said.

“Tough talk” about life sentencing will not help reduce violent offences, and instead more focus should be placed on the root causes that explain why perpetrators have been driven to commit such acts, the chief superintendent, who asked not to be named, told The Independent.

Following a spree of acid attacks by teenagers on mopeds in the capital last week, the Home Secretary suggested acid attack convictions could soon carry life sentences, saying an overhaul of current guidelines would ensure those who used noxious liquids as a weapon “feel the full force of the law”.

But the chief superintendent said rather than bringing in new legislation in an attempt to prevent further attacks, there must be “new thinking” on how to deal with youth violence, saying acid attacks and other forms of violence are merely the “symptom” of wider problems.

“We don’t need new legislation. We need new thinking about these issues. Knives, acid, mopeds… They are all being seen as the problem, when in fact they are just the symptom,” the officer said.

“The knee jerk jump to enforcement measures is tired and repetitive. What lies deeper? Why on earth would a young man choose to pick up a bottle of acid in the first place – much less use it on another human being?

“What does this tell us about the childhood and background of that young person, the environment in which they were raised? And what does it tell us about society more generally?”

The officer pointed out that there is already a law in place under the Offences Against the Person Act which states that an offence with full intention to cause serious bodily harm carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

He added: “We don’t need new laws. The role of police in enforcement terms is to deal with the immense threat of these horrifying crimes. It’s what we’ve always done and always will do.

“But it’s only a short term fix. It’s not going to get close to solving the problem. We have got to do better. We need longer term solutions which require looking at the root causes.”

The rampage on Thursday evening saw five separate victims targeted by two moped-riding attackers, aged 15 and 16, in the north and the east of the capital.

Two of the assaults saw mopeds stolen, while another victim was left with “life-changing” injuries after being sprayed.

As well as Amber Rudd’s calls for life sentencing, the Home Office has said new guidance will be provided to police officers on preventing attacks, searching potential perpetrators and responding to victims at the scene.

Work will also take place with retailers to agree measures to restrict sales of acids, which can currently be bought cheaply and easily from high street retailers and online.

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