A teenager has been arrested after acid was thrown in people’s faces in five attacks over one night in London.
Two moped riders attacked the victims over 90 minutes in Islington, Stoke Newington and Hackney on Thursday.
An eyewitness said he heard a victim, who he believed was a delivery driver, “screaming in pain”. One victim suffered “life-changing injuries”.
Police said they were looking into whether moped riders were targeted so their bikes could be stolen.
Hackney resident Jon Moody said he was watching TV when he heard screaming and ran to the window.
Image copyright Sarah Cobbold.
Image caption Emergency services and delivery drivers came to the aid of an acid attack victim on Queensbridge Road in Hackney
“I heard a high-pitched scream but thought it was the boys playing football… I heard more shouting and ran to my window,” he said.
“I could see a man in serious distress, he was screaming in pain.
“There were only two police officers with the victim, they took out two large water canisters and poured it over him.”
He said he believed the victim was a delivery driver and about 20 fellow delivery drivers turned up at the scene.
The Hackney Gazette last week reported many delivery drivers are refusing to work in some areas after 21:30 BST because of robbery fears.
The assaults happened amid increasing concern about the sharp rise in acid attacks in London.
Since 2010 there have been more than 1,800 reports of attacks involving corrosive fluids in the capital. Last year, it was used in 458 crimes, compared to 261 in 2015, according to Met Police figures.
Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said the growing trend of victims being doused with corrosive liquids was concerning.
Ms Dick told LBC Thursday night’s attacks were “completely barbaric”.
“The acid can cause horrendous injuries,” she said.
“The ones last night involved a series of robberies we believe are linked – I am glad to see we have arrested somebody.”
Police said the latest attacks were linked and were questioning the teenager at an east London police station on suspicion of robbery and causing grievous bodily harm.
A Met spokesman said one line of inquiry detectives would be pursuing was whether the attackers were targeting moped riders to steal their bikes.
The attacks began at 22:25 BST on Thursday in Hackney Road.
A 32-year-old man on a moped was left with facial injuries after another moped, with two male riders, pulled up alongside him and threw a corrosive substance in his face.
One of the men stole his moped and the other drove away on the vehicle they arrived on.
The Met said it was awaiting an update on the extent of the victim’s injuries. Inquiries are ongoing.
- At 22:25 BST on Thursday in Hackney Road a 32-year-old man on a moped was left with facial injuries after a moped, with two male riders, pulled up alongside him and attacked him.
- At 22:49 BST a man was reported to have had a corrosive substance thrown in his face by two men on a moped in Islington.
- At 23:05 BST a corrosive substance was reported to have been thrown in the face of a person by two men on a moped in Shoreditch High Street. The victim has been taken to hospital, although police said the injuries were not believed to be life threatening or life changing.
- At 23:18 BST police received reports of a robbery in Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington, where a corrosive substance had been thrown. Officers attended and found a man suffering from facial injuries that have been described as life changing.
- At about 23:37 BST, a man on a moped was in traffic on Chatsworth Road, Clapton when two men on a moped pulled up alongside him and sprayed liquid in his face, before stealing his vehicle. The victim was taken to an east London hospital.
Assaults involving corrosive substances have more than doubled in England since 2012, with the number of acid attacks in the capital showing the most dramatic rise in recent years.
The Met’s own figures show there were 261 acid attacks in 2015, rising to 458 last year.
So far this year – excluding Thursday night – the Met has recorded 119 such attacks.
Shadow Home Secretary and Stoke Newington MP Dianne Abbott responded to news of the attacks, tweeting: “More terrible acid attacks, Why would you scar someone for life just to steal a moped.”
Labour MP for East Ham Stephen Timms has tabled an adjournment debate for Monday in the House of Commons on the rise in the number of acid attacks.
About a third of last year’s acid attacks in the capital took place in the London borough of Newham, which is in his constituency.
Mr Timms told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that carrying a bottle of sulphuric acid without justification should be treated as an offence, like carrying a knife, adding he was “most concerned about sulphuric acid.”
“We could certainly come up with arrangements that would allow people to use sulphuric acid in the normal way, perhaps with the benefit of a licence. But simply walking around the street with a bottle of sulphuric acid, that should be an offence,” he said.
A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister viewed acid attacks as “horrific”.
“We are working with the police to see what more we could do. The prime minister’s view is that the use of acid in this way is horrific.”
Home Office minister Sarah Newton told BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast the government was considering tighter controls on some chemicals in response to the acid attacks in East London and elsewhere.
But she said regulation would be difficult, as “these chemicals are under everyone’s kitchen sinks”.
She said it was clear acid was being used “as a weapon” and work had been commissioned “to understand the motivation” of people who use it to injure others.
She also said the government was examining sentencing for those who use acid to injure people.