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Acid to Be Defined as 'Highly Dangerous Weapon' in the UK for the First Time

Acid attacks are on the rise in the UK, and authorities are under pressure to curb the spate of violent crime. 

Now, for the first time, acid can be defined as a “highly dangerous weapon,” which means judges can hand out tougher sentences to those caught carrying acid in public.

If an adult is convicted twice for carrying a corrosive substance in public, they could now be given a minimum jail term of six months, according to the Independent — the same sentence as for carrying a knife. 

Under-18s would receive a four month detention and training order. 

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The harsher punishments come after the Sentencing Council released new guidelines on Thursday — in response to the more than 400 recorded acid attacks carried out in England and Wales in the six months to April 2017. 

The UK has one of the world’s highest rates of recorded attacks per capita, according to the Independent, and two people have died as a result of acid attacks. 

But restricting the sale of acid isn’t an easy task, as so many of the corrosive substances used in these attacks also have everyday uses. 

“You’ve got bleach, chemical irritants — anything you might find in a kitchen cupboard,” said Rachel Kearton, the assistant chief constable of Suffolk Police and the National Police Chiefs Council lead on corrosive attacks, in December. 

Read more: Acid Attacks Are on the Rise in London: Here's What You Should Do If You Witness One

“We have to bear in mind that these are legitimate substances that often have household uses that are probably owned by all of us," she said.

Police said dozens of different corrosive substances have been used in attacks in the UK — with some not covered by existing bans and voluntary sales restrictions. Some of the most severe, however, used sulphuric acid. Many UK retailers are signed up to a voluntary ban on sales of dangerous products to under-18s. 

Under the new guidelines, offensive weapons are defined as “any article made or adapted for causing injury…or intended for such use,” according to reports. Meanwhile, a highly dangerous weapon carries a risk that goes “substantially above and beyond.” 

Read more: Why These Acid Attack Survivors Danced Down a London Fashion Show Catwalk

“The court must determine whether the weapon is highly dangerous on the facts and circumstances of the case,” said the Sentencing Council. 

Meanwhile, the Home Office has proposed new laws that could bring in punishments for anyone carrying corrosive substances without a “good or lawful reason.” 

A spokesperson for the Home Office said it is making “good progress” on a plan to tackle acid attacks, and it will be announcing a new serious violence strategy later this year. 

“We will shortly announce our response to last year’s consultation on new legislation banning sales of corrosives to under-18s and introducing a new offence for possessing corrosive products in a public space,” they said. 

Read more: This 21-Year-Old Acid Attack Survivor Has Inspired Many With Her Strength

“In the meantime we have put in place a set of voluntary commitments with retailers to restrict access to most harmful products,” they added. “Knife crime, acid attacks, and serious violent offences devastate lives and that is why we’ll be announcing our new Serious Violence Strategy in the spring.”

“It will place a new emphasis on steering young people away from a life of crime,” they added, “while continuing to promote the strongest possible law enforcement response.” 

Rory Stewart, a justice minister, said we must “recognise the emerging threat of other weapons, such as acid, and those caught with any offensive weapon must feel the full force of the law.”

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