Why the debate?
Over recent weeks, we’ve all seen numerous shocking reports in the mainstream media of acid (or corrosive substance) attacks, predominantly happening in the east London area by gangs of youths using mopeds or motorbikes to make quick their escape.
These attacks leave victims with potentially life changing injuries in both a physical and mental sense. These types of assaults are not necessarily a new thing, but the recent alarming increase has thrust the issue right into the limelight and the public rightly want action and reassurance.
BBC News states “Assaults involving corrosive substances have more than doubled in England since 2012 to 504 in 2016-17”, based on data gathered via Freedom of Information requests sent to UK Police forces.
Separately, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) state that between November 2016, and April 2017, there have been 408 incidents recorded between 39 forces and that one in five offenders have been under the age of 18.
Some of the recent victims of these crimes have bravely spoken openly about their traumatic experience and the pain and suffering it has caused them. Something needs to be done to address the issue and prevent more innocent people from getting hurt – but as things stand, it’s not that simple.
Why aren’t the police doing more to catch these people?
The simple answer to this is that the police are doing everything that they possibly can in order to address this problem, as can be seen by the fact that just last week, a 16 year old was arrested and charged in relation to five attacks which took place within a 90 minute period across north and east London.
However, many people seem unaware that as things stand, most forces do not allow officers to pursue suspects who are riding moped or motorbikes in any circumstances. My research has found that the Metropolitan Police do allow certain types of officers to conduct a pursuit if certain criteria are met (in the interests of not helping the criminals, I’ll not be specifying these criteria).
The reason for this is that if a police officer was to pursue these moped gangs as they flee the scene, and the moped was to crash and those onboard were to be hurt or killed; as things stand the individual officers may be held responsible and face criminal charges themselves. The fact is that these gangs are fully aware of this and are now choosing to exploit the situation which is enabling the alarming escalation in these types of attacks.
A serving officer in the north of England told me that “as things stand, it is very frustrating. We have so many bikes make off from us and we can’t do anything”. He also explained “I once saw a (motor)bike at night with no lights, two up wearing clown masks, I was unable to do anything”.
Many other officers from varying ranks have contacted me too, and it is evident that the police absolutely want to do more, but are limited with the current legal situation regarding police pursuits.
So what should be considered when addressing the issue?
- Changing the Law – Good police officers embrace change as crime is changing all the time. It is important that Government and our Law makers are also open to embracing change and ensure that laws remain fit for purpose in this dynamic, ever changing field. Police (I’m sure everybody will agree) should not be above the law, but should they have laws to protect them in carrying out their duties to the wider public? Should they be empowered to make a judgement call that they can justify without fear of prosecution if a suspect is injured in the process of protecting the wider majority of citizens? Are the suspects old enough to know that actions have consequences and that if they behave in this way, they may ultimately get pursued and hurt? It is a difficult and fine balance to get right.
- Increased use of Stop and Search – A controversial subject for many, but in order to allow police to take preventative action to address the issue, should Stop and Search be increased in order to locate people carrying these substances before they have the chance to use them? It has proven effective in the past with knife crime.
- Tougher sentences – should far tougher sentences be brought in for those convicted of being in posession of these harmful substances with intent to harm or cause alarm to others; and those convicted of carrying out such attacks? Would tougher sentences act as a deterrent to those thinking about carrying out these acts? Should examples be made of those found guilty that society will not tolerate their behaviour and hand down a long custodial sentence?
- Tighter control of sales of harmful substances – Should there be tighter control over the sales of harmful chemicals (bleach, acid etc)? I’m sure that this will be discussed, but in reality would it make a great deal of difference? Most of these types of substances are in your everyday cleaning cupboard. What would prevent a gang member from just taking it from their kitchen cupboard? Or stealing it?
I haven’t put this article together in order to preach to people. There are no right or wrong answers. What I want to achieve is public interaction and to open up the debate within our communities. The issues raised are not purely London-centric, the ramifications run deeper and wider. Pursuit policy and the limitations inflicted on officers as a result of the current legal position affect the whole country. If more people engage in the discussion, and involve those around them and policy makers, we as a society can help the police in tackling these issues on a united front. They do a fantastic (and often thankless) job and deserve the public’s support in fighting this issue head on.
Please, carry on the debate with those around you and let me know your thoughts.