LONDON — British police said Friday that a 16-year-old boy was in custody on suspicion of involvement in five acid attacks that were carried out by two male suspects on a moped the previous evening within the space of 72 minutes.
The teen was arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and robbery after the crime spree, which started at 10:25 p.m. (2125 GMT) in the east London borough of Hackney, where two men riding a moped attacked a man with acid and made off with his moped.
The subsequent attacks — carried out by two men on mopeds — occurred at 10:49 p.m. in the central Islington area, and at 11:05 p.m., 11:18 p.m. and 11:37 p.m. back in east London, police said in a statement.
All five victims suffered injuries in the attacks, though none of them were in life-threatening condition. However, police described one of the victims’ injuries as “life-changing.”
Police has called for witnesses, as well as those with information or in possession of footage of the incidents, to come forward.
Data obtained from the Metropolitan Police by the BBC through Freedom of Information requests shows there have been more than 1,800 reports of attacks involving corrosive fluids since 2010. Their use had been recorded in murders, robberies, rapes and, more recently, hate crimes against Muslims.
British Prime Minister Theresa May referred to the crime spree as “horrific.”
She said through her spokeswoman that it was “already an offence to carry acid or a corrosive substance with intent to cause harm” and that her government was “working with the police to see what more we could do.”
Speaking to LBC radio in the wake of the attacks, Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick said: “Acid attacks are completely barbaric. It’s a new trend in this country. The acid can cause horrendous injuries.”
Jaf Shah of the Acid Survivors Trust International said acid attacks had “effectively doubled” in the past year and that that the possession of corrosive substances should carry the same penalty as knife possession to avoid an “explosion” of such crimes.
But the National Police Chiefs’ Council said it is virtually impossible to ban the sale of all corrosive substances because many are household products, such as bleach and drain cleaner, which are available over the counter.