By Reena Kumar
A YOUNG woman who was left with horrifying acid burns following an unprovoked attack on her 21st birthday last month has said that measures need to be taken to ensure further assaults are prevented.
Resham Khan (right), an aspiring model, and her cousin Jameel Muhktar suffered severe injuries to their face and body after acid was thrown at them through the window of their stationary car on June 21.
Muhktar had to be placed into an induced coma and both cousins suffered life-changing
injuries; they remain in hospital a fortnight after the attack.
The police are treating the incident in Beckton, east London, as a hate crime. Khan, from Manchester, had just returned to Britain from a student exchange year in Cyprus.
Writing on Twitter, she said that she had come to London to visit a spa and go for a meal to celebrate her birthday.
She and her cousin went for a drive in the morning, “blasting music and chilling
like cousins do”.
Khan criticised the emergency services’ response, claiming that the ambulance took too
long to arrive and police waited days after the attack before taking a statement from her.
She has been praised on Facebook for her strength and positivity, and has taken to social
media to chronicle her recovery following the brutal assault.
The 21-year-old wrote on Twitter: “This shouldn’t have happened. This shouldn’t be
something we get used to. Measures need to be took to make sure no one fears an #acidattack.”
Describing herself as being “devastated”, she said the pain from the attack was “excruciating” and she had seen her clothes “burn away”. She fears she would “probably never look the same”.
Khan was due to start a new job on Monday (3). A crowdfunding page for her raised more than £53,552 by Tuesday (4) afternoon, surpassing the £30,000 target, as Eastern Eye went to press.
Following the attack, almost 272,000 people signed a petition to prohibit the purchase of acid to those without a licence.
Sarmad Ismail, who started the petition, wrote: “You should only be allowed to purchase corrosive acids with a licence to buy… Imagine how many attacks would be stopped if there were controls that made it harder to buy, and meant we knew more about people buying it?
“Acid attacks have become too common, the Home Office needs to do something to bring it under control. It is a disgusting criminal act. We need licensing laws now to deter this from happening.”
In an Eastern Eye report published recently, Jaf Shah, executive director of Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), spoke of his call for strict control over the sales of sulphuric acid.
He said there were virtually no controls in place to curb sales of the highly dangerous substance which is used to burn and seriously disfigure victims.
Meanwhile, residents in east London held an emergency meeting on Sunday (1) evening following concerns over a spate of incidents in the area – involving acid being thrown – and which bear the hallmarks of robberies.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs was present at the meeting.
A 23-year-old man had what is believed to be bleach squirted at him while he was in his car, after a driver pulled up alongside him before the attack.
The man got out of his car and sought help before the suspects stole his car in Tower Hamlets last Friday (29).
He was treated for minor injuries and there have been no arrests. Last month, a man in his forties suffered injuries after he was targeted with a suspected noxious substance and robbed by a group of men in Waltham Forest at 10pm. As of yet, no arrests have been made.
Social media users warned residents to be vigilant and some speculated if the attackers were targeting south Asian or “Muslim looking people”.
Police have confirmed that the only acid attack being treated as a hate crime is the one involving Khan and Muhktar.
Officers investigating the incident have released images of John Tomlin who is wanted in
connection with the attack.
The 24-year-old, who has distinctive face tattoos of tear drops, should not be approached by the public, the Met said.
He is around six foot tall, of stocky build with short fair hair, and is linked to the Canning Town area.
Detective superintendent Neil Matthews said: “We are treating this incident very seriously and following new information that has come to light, it is now being treated as a hate crime.”
Muhktar, 37, has spoken out about how he believes he and his cousin were specifically targeted because of their race or religion.
In an interview with Channel 4 News last week, before the police launched their hate crime investigation, he said: “It’s definitely a hate crime.”
“I believe it’s something to do with Islamophobia. Maybe he’s got it in for Muslims because of the things that have been going on lately.
“I don’t know if people are trying to retaliate. We’re innocent people. We didn’t deserve that. I’ve never seen this guy in my life. I don’t have any problems with anybody. My cousin is 21. She’s a business student. Why would anyone do that to us?”
The Newham branch of Stand up to Racism was set to organise a peaceful vigil in solidarity with the cousins and the victims of anti-Muslim hate crime on Wednesday (5) evening in Stratford.
Rob Ferguson, convenor of Newham Stand up to Racism, told Eastern Eye: “The Muslim community are perceived as perpetrators rather than victims. The vigil is being held as solidarity with the victims of hate crime. We are raising the question of how the police dealt with the case.
“The campaigning group is also calling on the government and the police to prioritise
their response to the rising level of Islamophobic attacks.”
In the UK, there were 700 incidents involving acid in 2016, 450 of these took place in London.
Shah, executive director of Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), is campaigning for
much stricter controls to curb the sales of sulphuric acid.
He told Eastern Eye his key concern was the recent surge of seemingly unprovoked attacks.
“These absolutely horrendous attacks have such serious repercussions for survivors and
their families that people would naturally be extremely concerned that it is a growing problem and about the possibility of being a victim of such an attack.”
According to current legislation, shops have to report children or teenagers acting suspiciously when they buy acid or strong household cleaners.