Delivery driver Jabed Hussain was on his way home from work earlier this month when he stopped his scooter at a red light in a quiet part of east London.
“Suddenly I heard the sound of water on my helmet. Then it just started burning,” he tells the ABC’s 7.30.
“It felt like someone put extreme fire on my face.”
The 32 year old had been sprayed with a very strong type of acid by young members of a gang.
They made off with his bike and went on to attack four other riders later that night.
Jabed’s lips were burned and he is worried he swallowed some of the corrosive substance.
“But compared to others I am lucky, thanks to my helmet. I could have been blind,” he says.
“I’m really scared … and [my family] are not even letting me go outside by myself.”
Samir Hussain, 28, knows just how horrific an acid attack can be.
He was scarred for life after being randomly attacked outside a cinema two years ago.
“It’s instant because as soon as the liquid touches anything it starts corroding and for that split second I knew it wasn’t water and that’s when the burning kicked in and my face and arm and neck started to corrode away,” he says.
Samir has had a number of operations, still wears a pressure mask and spends an hour a day rubbing cream into his scars.
“I think the one thing that will always stick in my mind is the lady who did help me she said there is one thing she’ll never forget and that’s the smell of burning skin,” he says.
Samir Hussain was scarred for life after being randomly attacked outside a cinema two years ago. (ABC News: 7.30)
Throwing acid, or ‘vitriol’, a centuries-old problem in Britain
Acid attacks have a long history in Britain.
Throwing vitriol, as sulphuric acid was known, was a stain on Victorian society two centuries ago.
Although the number of attacks are still dwarfed by knife and gun crime, they have increased significantly in recent years.
There have been at least 1,800 reported cases of corrosive household items, like bleach or drain cleaner, being used as a weapon since 2010.
The UK has one of the worst records in the developed world and it is thought many incidents go unreported.
“There are a number of reasons for it but the key reason is that urban street gangs, which we now have in London and other metropolitan cities in the UK, have adopted it as a weapon in their armoury and quite often a weapon of first choice rather than a weapon of last resort,” Simon Harding, a criminologist from Middlesex University, says.
“Violence is normalised for many of these young gang boys so for them to adopt something that is ultra-violent is no big deal for them. In fact, they kind of get off on it. It builds notoriety.”
Acid is also increasingly used in gang warfare because it is cheap and very easy to get.
ABC’s 7:30 was able to buy strong acid from a number of London hardware stores.
Unlike a knife or a gun, if someone is caught with a corrosive substance on the street police have to prove they are planning to hurt someone, which can be very difficult — many of the liquids are used in household cleaning or by small businesses.
In July, British police arrested a teenager after five acid attacks in less than 90 minutes across east London left several people with facial burns. (AP: Sarah Cobbold)
I got a life sentence, so should he: Acid victim
Beauty therapist Adele Bellis is one of a number of victims demanding the UK Government do more to stop attacks.
She lost an ear, has permanent scarring and was left partly bald after being doused with sulphuric acid while waiting for a bus near her home.
The assault was ordered by her abusive, controlling ex-boyfriend.
“I could feel my ear just melting away and I was just burning all over,” she says.
Ms Bellis wants off-the-shelf acid to be weaker, harder to buy and illegal to carry in unlabelled bottles on the street.
She also thinks jail terms should be significantly increased.
“My attacker was obviously out last month after serving two years and two months,” she says.
“He went guilty, he did help me out at court but why should he get 10 years knocked off his sentence? He’s still done it.
“I’ve got to live with it for the rest of my life, so why should he be out living a life?”
Parliament has been debating new measures but for victims the progress is far too slow.
Victims are urging other western countries, like Australia, to take note of what is happening in Britain.
“It just angers me because how many more acid attacks do there need to be before something gets done?” Ms Bellis says.
“We need to try to prevent them, whether it be in higher sentences or trying to restrict it, if not there’s going to keep being more.”
Beauty therapist Adele Bellis is one of a number of victims demanding the UK Government do more to stop attacks. (ABC News: 7.30)