Words by Anisa Tasmin
On 24th June, a tweet by aspiring model Resham Khan made viral waves on Twitter, accumulating around twenty-one thousand retweets. This may, to some, seem like everything you could ever ask for on social media – yet it came at a cost and a fight for life after two cousins became the latest victims in the sickening acid attack trend.
Ms Resham Khan and her cousin Jameel Muktar were celebrating Resham’s 21st birthday and were driving through Beckton, East London. Having paused at traffic lights, an attacker threw a corrosive substance through the passenger’s window and in a panicked escape, Jameel continued to drive, crashing into a fence as the excruciating effects of the acid took hold.
For 45 minutes, both cousins frantically tried to dull the effects of the corrosive substance, until an ambulance finally arrived. Immediately, Jameel was placed in an induced coma, Resham was taken for a skin graft and both were treated for severe burns to their faces and bodies.
Resham recounts her recovery, both mentally and physically, through her twitter page. While her tweets are often light-hearted quips of the displeasure of hospital stays, she stresses the importance for unity in the fight against acid attacks.
The suspected perpetrator of this sickeningly heinous crime – 24-year-old John Tomlin – had handed himself into police custody on 9 July 2017 and two days later appeared at Thames Magistrates’ Court, charged with two counts of grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent.
Reported by Daily Mail, Prosecutor Alexa Morgan commented that Tomlin was incredibly “violent while in custody” and was kept in handcuffs during his July court hearing. He will also be kept in custody because of his violent behaviour until his sentence that will begin on the 26th January 2018. Furthermore, the psychiatric reports on Tomlin will be completed in order to assess if he is a danger to the public.
The motivation behind Tomlin’s attack is suspected to be racism. In a video interview with Channel 4, Mr Jameel Muktar, the second of Tomlin’s victims, believed the attack is “something to do with Islamophobia” and “definitely a hate crime”.
Tomlin’s Facebook page was littered with the type of anti-Muslim rhetoric common among ‘Britain First’, ‘English and Proud’ and ‘English Defence League’ supporters. And it seems that Tomlin was disturbed enough to act upon the hateful rhetoric.
After the attack on Reshma and her cousin Jameel, a spate of attacks in East London occurred which had some Muslims fearing to leave their homes. The Met, however, did not conclude that these were hate crimes, but rather particularly savage muggings.
The BBC report that 458 acid-related offences were recorded in London last year and have noted that “23% were related to robberies” and “63% being assaults”. This is a tremendous increase from 261 acid attacks recorded in 2015.
The Met are also analysing the crime stats to see possible gang links with these attacks.
So, why is acid becoming the weapon of choice for many violent criminals in London?
The reality is that buying these corrosive substances is easier than buying knives, and that their purchase and use represents a ‘loophole’ in the law.
The most common types of corrosive substances used in these attacks are sulphuric and nitric acid. Professor Tony Covington at Northampton University reveals the damage sulphuric acid causes on skin through an experiment shown on Express.co.uk.
These “devastating effects” come from purchasing a 96% concentrated bottle of sulphuric acid bought online for £5 without a license. Since these substances are yet to be classified as weapons, appropriate sentences for such attacks are yet to be taken forward to the requisite level.
The possession of a knife carries a maximum prison sentence of 4 years for a minor and a minimum of 5 years if over 18; extended sentences are issued for using the knife on a victim. Acid attack criminals, however, can only be prosecuted for GBH, whereas knife attacks can be tried for attempted murder. Something clearly needs to change.
On the 24th July, The Guardian reported that London Police officers will be “issued with 1,000 acid attack response kits … and 5L bottle of water”. This also means that the London Fire Brigade will cooperate with the police as they can provide water to help mitigate further damage to skin.
East London police will also obtain kits to test suspicious items for corrosive substances. The Deputy Commissioner of The Met remarks “East London is a hotspot… although there are offences across London” with 149 of these attacks occurring in Newham.
Resham and Jameel’s bravery in sharing their traumatic experience has kick-started action in preventing acid attacks from occurring. After the attack, a petition on change.org, which called for formal licences to be mandatory for the purchase of acid, went viral. It has now reached nearly half a million signatures.
MPs have debated measures regarding acid attacks, but nothing has been formalised yet. Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, has called for carrying acid to be made a crime. But we are yet to see any forceful action.
Join the petition to prevent the purchase of acidic chemicals without a license: