Editorial Board

Britain's Alarm Over Acid Attacks

How to deal with an upsurge in crimes of calculated cruelty.

No ordinary crime.

Photographer: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Acid attacks are catching on in Britain. The numbers may still be small relative to other violent crimes, but they're sharply on the rise. These assaults are especially shocking -- and they're attracting feverish attention, which could inspire copycats. The government needs to act.

The U.K. now has one of the highest rates of recorded acid attacks in the world, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International. Last year, there were more than 450 in London alone, up nearly 75 percent from 2015. Just last night, two assailants on a moped carried out five more.

These incidents are often devastating -- resulting in permanent disfigurement and requiring years of medical and psychological help. A victim in one prominent recent case has called for action, and hundreds of thousands have signed a petition in support.

Britain strictly regulates possession of guns -- and knives as well, to a lesser extent. But control of poisons and other dangerous chemicals is focused not on would-be users but on sellers. Anyone is free to buy acid, and it's cheap and easily concealed. New regulation should never be undertaken on a whim, but it looks warranted in this case. Possession of dangerous acids needs to be restricted.  

Punishment for acid attacks should be made more severe as well. At the moment they're dealt with as ordinary violent assaults. Frequently, charges aren't brought; when they are, sentences vary and send no consistent message. This fails to do justice to a crime of calculated and extreme cruelty. Acid attacks should be recognized as a separate category of violent crime with stricter punishment of offenders.

Maybe Prime Minister Theresa May's government can set an example for other countries where using acid as a weapon is common, and law enforcement too lax. In any case, Britain should act before its own problem gets any worse.

    --Editors: Therese Raphael, Clive Crook

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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