Acid Attacks and Moped Gangs – Time to Act…

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.

Acid attacks - Sarah Cobbold:Reuters
The scene of a recent acid attack in London (photo credit – Sarah Cobbold/Reuters)

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.

15 thoughts on “Acid Attacks and Moped Gangs – Time to Act…”

  1. Great piece. I watched a documentary where the police weren’t allowed to pursue people clearly connected to a crime – because the crooks were on mopeds in busy traffic. This needs to stop

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent piece Jim. Not easy to resolve as you say but response must be punitive. Confiscate wheels, substantial fine to get it back and money put into victim fund. Report on behaviour record for six years, naming and shaming and tagging. These are not children – they are young adults and too many politicians want them at 16 to be able to vote.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Section 3 of the CJA 1967 (reasonable force) appears to cover situations where riders or drivers make off and information doing so put others at risk of harm. To my mind, such dangerous levels of driving need to be ended without delay. With that in mind, it seems reasonable to pursue and, with minimal vehicle contact, bring the offending vehicle to a stop.

    As regards the control of hazardous or corrosive substances, this seems harder to control. There is legislation to deal with offences involving the use of such substances (OAP Act 1861), however the deed is already done by then. I would argue that, depending on the means used to ‘deliver’ the substance, the offender will at sometime be in possession of a ‘prohibited weapon’ (sec 5 Firearms Act 1968). These matters tend to lead onto Stop & Search.

    People appear to be suggesting that the use of Section 1 PACE 1984, can be applied as and when increases in certain offences occur. That is not the case. Unless a carpet sec 60 is in force, constables must have “reasonable suspicion” that a person has certain items on them that can only be found by a search. That means that the circumstances, behaviour, or information give rise to that level of suspicion. Without that, the search will be unlawful and the constable could face being disciplined.

    Only a few years ago, stop and search was being used as a performance indicator, which resulted in unlawful or unjustified use of the power.

    PM T May put a stop to that, quite rightly. So, until the criteria for stopping and searching someone changes, the cry for the unlawful use of S & S must stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Police Officers need to be allowed to uphold the law by legal mean and stopping these thugs the law needs to change regarding methods of apprehension of the lawless thugs

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A well researched piece. Without getting too political we have a government headed by a former Home Secretary who has vilified and demonised the police for her own political ends. She issued the Police with a warning: stop or curtail stop and search or face legislation that will do the same, So stop and search dropped dramatically and we have seen an epidemic of knife related crime and murder. Why so? Well there is simply no deterrent for carrying a knife or bladed article as the likelihood of being stopped and searched is now extremely remote; and on the other side of the coin if you were to be arrested in possession of a knife the chances of your facing the full force of the law is slim, as the sentences given for such offences are often minimal and provide little in the way or punishment or deterrence. Moving onto ‘moped enabled crime’: again there has been a exponential increase in criminals using mopeds and the like to commit serious crime such as robbery, often with impunity, due to the inability of the police to actually intervene. Police officers have a duty of care to other road users and the criminals themselves who may be hurt in a pursuit by police – in fact it is apparent that the young criminals who engage in this crime are acting fully in the knowledge that no matter what they do whilst riding, often, stolen vehicles, that they only have to remove their helmets and wave them at the police for the officers to discontinue the pursuit. Not to do so would leave the officer vulnerable to be prosecuted and/or disciplined. For the simple fact that police officers driving operational vehicles that are equipped for emergency purposes and who are highly trained and experienced emergency response drivers have no protection under the law, as it stands, and are treated in the same manner as a safe and competent driver who is an ordinary member of the public. Consequently we have seen several officers charged with reckless and dangerous driving appearing in Crown Court at the instigation of the IPCC. Is it no wonder that an already enfeebled police, suffering from cuts to manpower, stations and equipment alongside poor morale is struggling to combat this latest crime wave?

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  5. You could add to this posting by looking at the interesting case of Henry Hicks, an Islington based small time weed dealer who died after a police/scooter chase. His family, who are “…well respected in the local area,” mounted a very strong campaign against the Met. The IPCC also upheld the complaints against 4 officers. It highlights some of the complexities of scooter/mortorbike pursuits.

    Int he short term UberEats and Deliveroo could adopt certain measures to make their vehicles less attractive to scooter gang hijacks, like branding up the bikes themselves (as opposed to just the delivery boxes) and drenching them in SmartWater.

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    1. Thanks for your input!
      Many would say that actions have consequences and that if these gangs of thugs are going to ride around on predominantly stolen and uninsured mopeds and rob people and or throw acid in people’s faces, then one of the consequences of their decision to do so is that they may well be chased by police and could get hurt – like the pain they inflict on their innocent victims.
      Yes, PPROPORTIONATE force is required but perhaps the balance has tipped way too far in the favour of the law breakers to the detriment of our innocent members of the public.
      Many suggest that it is time that society and govt allowed the police to protect us and got behind them rather than constantly criticise them.
      These thugs cannot be allowed to run riot, unchallenged in our streets.
      I think all would agree that nobody wants to see anybody hurt or killed. BUT actions have potential consequences, and if people join a gang, stealing bikes, robbing people and carrying/using acid, the consequence is that they could be chased and hurt.

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  6. Jim, good article. I agree with much of what you say.

    My own view is as follows:

    The police’s primary duty is to protect the public from criminals. If the criminals are using violence against the public, then it should be legitimate and non-prosecutable to stop their vehicles even if the riders are injured or killed.

    I don’t care if stopping them involves driving into them, throwing objects at them or shooting them. If they are aware that they be harmed or even killed in trying to escape from carrying out a violent crime then they have two easy options: either don’t try to drive off or, even more sensibly, don’t squirt acid in people’s faces in the first place.

    Not only should police not be prosecuted for the use of force in such instances, they should get a medal or protecting the public. Tying the police’s hands in such instances just means the criminals get more chances to grievously harm innocent people.

    And the powers that be wonder why politicians and lawyers are held in such low-regard by the law-abiding public…

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