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Trading standards conduct visits to traders across Newham to educate on new legislation on acid sales

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 07:21 16 November 2018

Omar Ihsan, who owns Upton Park Builder's Merchant, said the numbers of acid attacks in Newham last year was concerning. Picture: Rhiannon Long

Omar Ihsan, who owns Upton Park Builder's Merchant, said the numbers of acid attacks in Newham last year was concerning. Picture: Rhiannon Long

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The number of acid attacks in London has dropped by 41 per cent since last year.

One Shot, which contains 91 per cent sulfuric acid. Picture: Rhiannon LongOne Shot, which contains 91 per cent sulfuric acid. Picture: Rhiannon Long

That’s partly down to changes in legislation, stipulating if the public want to buy strong acids, they need a licence from the Home Office to do so.

These changes came into force in April, but according to Newham’s enforcement team, the number of shopkeepers aware of them is surprisingly low.

So together with council trading standards officers, they’re visiting retailers across the borough, to make sure they’re complying with the new rules.

“Of the acid attacks that happened in the capital last year, 49 per cent were in east London,” said Inspector Stubbs, who heads the enforcement team.

A weaker strength product which doesn't require a licence to buy because it contains a low percentage of acid. Picture: Rhiannon LongA weaker strength product which doesn't require a licence to buy because it contains a low percentage of acid. Picture: Rhiannon Long

“That’s really important and we need to do something about it. Although there’s been a reduction, that doesn’t mean we’re going to rest on our laurels.”

Insp Stubbs’ officers have visited 200 traders since July, educating them on the new legislation. The amendments relate to the Poisons Act 1972, and were brought in to limit the sale of products which could be used to make explosives. These products just so happen to be the same ones used in acid attacks.

These include everyday items, like One Shot, a cleaner which has been used in households for 35 years. According to the new policy, any products containing more than 15 per cent sulfuric acid require a licence to buy. One Shot contains 91pc.

“Ultimately it’s about getting products out of the hands of the wrong people,” said Sergeant Weeks, one of the officers conducting the visits. Last year, one of the Sergeant’s Pcs was on the way to work when he stopped to help a paramedic. They were attacked with ammonia, and while the Pc wasn’t injured, it brought the issue closer to home.

The owner of Upton Park Builder's Merchants said he'd done his research on acid sale legislation, and said it was important for other retailers to follow suit. Picture: GoogleThe owner of Upton Park Builder's Merchants said he'd done his research on acid sale legislation, and said it was important for other retailers to follow suit. Picture: Google

“We saw some really horrific things last year,” Sergeant Weeks said.

“It became the assault of choice, and Tollgate Road was the hotspot.

“If this legislation stops just one person, that’s enough.”

The Recorder was invited along on one of the visits, to three retailers in Green Street. One corner shop was found to be openly selling One Shot on a shelf, with the shopkeeper seemingly unaware of the licencing rules. Another said although he used to sell strong acids, they were now kept in the storeroom and didn’t sell well, but again, he didn’t know the requirements for customers to have a licence. The third shopkeeper, the owner of a builder’s merchant, was the only one clued up.

Products containing acid in Upton Park Builder's Merchant were moved out of site to behind the till, to act as a deterrent to buying and reduce the risk of shoplifting. Picture: Rhiannon LongProducts containing acid in Upton Park Builder's Merchant were moved out of site to behind the till, to act as a deterrent to buying and reduce the risk of shoplifting. Picture: Rhiannon Long

“We know the rules from our own research,” said Omar Ihsan, owner of Upton Park Builder’s Merchant. Last year, the shop saw teenagers regularly ask for ammonia, so acidic products were moved to behind the till.

“These attacks are happpening in Newham more than the rest of the country,” he continued. 
“We’re more on it than many traders. It’s important to know the rules, not only because it comes down on us, but if we sold to someone who used it violently, we’d feel so bad. These attacks change lives – I’d rather get stabbed than be in an acid attack.

“Fortunately we’re a busy business, so we can afford to refuse a sale, but smaller shops can’t.”

Breaking the rules can lead to three months in prison if heard in a Magistrates Court, or up to two years in a Crown Court.

Omar Ihsan with Mohammed Zahoor, who works at Upton Park Builder's Merchant. Picture: Rhiannon LongOmar Ihsan with Mohammed Zahoor, who works at Upton Park Builder's Merchant. Picture: Rhiannon Long

If a licence is produced and a sale made, shopkeepers must write the details of the sale on the back of the licence and keep a record for themselves. While shopkeepers might be happy to refuse sales, trading standards officers admitted that expecting them to fill out paperwork was more unrealistic. They’ve suggested licencing premises might be a more effective method.

“The legislation doesn’t allow conditions to be put on the premises,” said Sheila Roberts from the standards team.

“If the licences were on the premises, we could make sure they’re operating safely, but we don’t have that kind of control with individual people.

“All we can do is encourage responsible trading.”

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