Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by the London Borough of Newham (OWB163)

1. Background

1.1 The London Borough of Newham is extremely concerned about the recent spate of corrosive substance attacks across London and in Newham in particular. Noxious and corrosive substance attacks are horrific crimes, which have lifelong consequences for their victims. In Newham last year there were 85 incidents, more than any other London borough, which is a significant cause for concern.

1.2 The London Borough of Newham, alongside the Metropolitan Police Service, is determined to make it harder for all criminal perpetrators to obtain noxious liquids and to tackle this appalling crime.

1.3 Working alongside the Metropolitan Police Service and local retailers, the London Borough of Newham has launched a voluntary scheme encouraging retailers to restrict the sale of acid and other noxious liquids to young people by challenging their age. To date, over 182 retailers have signed up to the scheme. However, as a voluntary scheme, the Council does not have the power to enforce this ban, which is why putting this on a statutory footing is so important.

2. Summary

2.1 The London Borough of Newham welcomes the provisions within the Offensive Weapons Bill, which will ban the sale of certain corrosive substances to under 18s and make it an offence to possess corrosive substances in a public place without reasonable excuse or lawful authority.

2.2 We believe that this Bill is an important first legislative step in helping to avert these horrendous incidents by providing the police and trading standards with greater enforcement powers. However, it is our view that the Bill could be strengthened in a number of ways:

- We recommend that the age limit for the ban on the sale of corrosive substances is raised to 21 to be more closely aligned with the age profile of recorded offenders.

- We recommend that an offence of supplying corrosive substances is created in line with the offence of the sale of a corrosive substance.

- We recommend that the Secretary of State is given powers to update Schedule 1 through secondary legislation.

- We recommend that the cost of enforcement by police and trading standard teams is adequately funded and that the provisions within this Bill are accompanied by enhanced funding for specialist victims’ services.

- We also recognise the importance of conducting greater research into the motivations and age profile of those who perpetuate these horrific attacks.

3. Age limits

3.1 The London Borough of Newham supports the introduction of an age limit for the purchasing of certain corrosive substances. We believe that there needs to be a careful examination and study into the age profile of offenders as part of the age assessment. It is our view that there is a case for raising this age threshold to 21, which we consider would be more closely aligned to the age profiles of recorded offenders.

3.2 This would also be in line with the London Borough of Newham’s voluntary scheme, which calls on responsible retailers to refuse to sell corrosive substances to under 21s and to adopt a ‘Challenge 25’ policy.

3.3 The London Borough of Newham would encourage the Committee to look at raising the age limit to 21 for the sale of those substances listed in Schedule 1.

4. Supply of corrosive substances

4.1 The London Borough of Newham is concerned that at present the Bill only provides for an offence of sale not of supply of corrosive substances to a person under 18. It is our view that without such an amendment, this could create a loophole, which may be exploited by perpetrators.

4.2 The London Borough of Newham would support an amendment creating a criminal offence of supplying certain specified corrosive substances to under 18s.

5. Definition of a corrosive substance

5.1 The offence of sale of a corrosive substance is limited to those set out in Schedule 1. While we welcome the inclusion of the substances set out in Schedule 1, we would recommend that the Bill provides an enabling power for Ministers to update these lists by secondary legislation in order to keep pace with developments. This approach has been adopted with similar criminal justice legislation such as the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

5.2 It is our view that the Bill as its stands risks being unable to keep pace with changing usage of different corrosive substances. Without an amendment, all changes to Schedule 1 would require primary legislation, which would incur unacceptable delays to safeguards being placed on the sale of these products.

5.3 The London Borough of Newham would support an amendment enabling the Secretary of State/Ministers to update the list corrosive substances in Schedule 1 through secondary legislation.

6. Funding for enforcement and victims services

6.1 The police service is facing significant funding challenges with the Metropolitan Police Service alone required to deliver £400 million in savings over the next four years. It is vital that the police service has appropriate resources to combat corrosive substance attacks and provide a strong, reassuring, neighbourhood presence in our communities. Alongside the Bill, Government needs to enhance police funding.

6.2 At the same time, local authorities trading standards teams, who will be responsible for enforcing the ban on the sale of corrosive substances to under 18s by retailers, are facing significant financial challenges as a result of drastic reductions to local authority grant funding and Government needs to ensure that the cost of this additional enforcement is met.

6.3 Noxious and corrosive substance attacks are horrendous crimes, which have lifelong consequences for their victims and it is therefore especially important that specialist victim support is provided and funded alongside enforcement efforts.

6.4 We recommend that the cost of enforcement by police and trading standard teams is adequately funded and that the provisions within this Bill are accompanied by enhanced funding for specialist victims’ services.

September 2018.

 

Prepared 6th September 2018