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Lethal ‘face melter’ acid is on sale for just £4.66 a bottle from Norfolk firm on Amazon

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:57 30 August 2017

The bottle of drain cleaner with 96pc sulphuric acid (l) and what it did to a shirt (r). Photo: Archant

The bottle of drain cleaner with 96pc sulphuric acid (l) and what it did to a shirt (r). Photo: Archant

Archant

This is the lethal ‘face melter’ acid that can burn and maim people in seconds - and can be bought online in minutes.

The acid is so strong it destroyed this shirt in seconds. Photo: Archant The acid is so strong it destroyed this shirt in seconds. Photo: Archant

Three bottles of the super-strength drain cleaner, containing 96pc sulphuric acid, were bought by this newspaper from a Norfolk firm on Amazon for less than £14 - and we were even offered free delivery.

Placing the order took less than two minutes and we were not subject to any age checks. Similar products are also widely available online and in shops.

Yet if the chemical was ‘weaponised’ and thrown at someone it would inflict devastating injuries.

Our own test showed the acid badly scorched and burned a t-shirt in seconds and left a meat steak grey and charred.

Bottles of sulphuric acid bought by this newspaper from Amazon. Photo: Archant Bottles of sulphuric acid bought by this newspaper from Amazon. Photo: Archant

Strong sulphuric acid products such as this one are known as ‘face melter’ by criminals and have become a weapon of choice among gangs in London, prompting calls for a law change to make them harder to buy.

At the moment it is completely legal for firms to sell these products and for anyone to buy them.

The firm we bought the product from on Amazon, called Hexeal Chemicals based in Rackheath, said it would stop selling the product after this newspaper questioned it about the sale.

Managing director Chris Moore said: “I would absolutely support moves to regulate and monitor the supply of strong acids.

The three bottles of 96pc sulphuric acid were bought online for less than £15. Photo: Archant The three bottles of 96pc sulphuric acid were bought online for less than £15. Photo: Archant

“A minimum age and/or proof of ID for certain products would be a positive move. I would also support reducing the strength of certain products available to non-business customers.

“As soon as our current stocks are gone we will be withdrawing from the drain cleaner market completely.”

The acid is ‘weaponised’ by simply transferring it in a squeezy-topped bottle and carrying it.

According to Norfolk police figures there were three acid attacks in 2015 and two in 2016 in the county. In Suffolk there were two last year.

A steak before we poured the drain cleaner on it... Photo: Archant A steak before we poured the drain cleaner on it... Photo: Archant

But the horrendous injuries that it can inflict are chilling.

Adele Bellis, who was severely injured in an acid attack in Pakefield in 2014 and has written a book about her experiences called Brave, said: “Clearly the results of the investigation are shocking, particularly with such a high percentage of sulphuric acid.

“Unfortunately though, I’m not that surprised by how easy it is to buy the acid.

“Since my attack I’ve become aware how many places people can get hold of it.”

...and a few minutes after we poured the drain cleaner on it. Photo: Archant ...and a few minutes after we poured the drain cleaner on it. Photo: Archant

Amazon declined to comment.

•‘It should be a life sentence’

Adele Bellis from Lowestoft was waiting at a bus stop in August 2014 when a man called Jason Harrison threw sulphuric acid at her.

Adele Bellis was the victim of an acid attack in 2014. She said it was shocking that products with 96pc sulphuric acid could be bought so easily. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire Adele Bellis was the victim of an acid attack in 2014. She said it was shocking that products with 96pc sulphuric acid could be bought so easily. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The beautician was left with severe scarring and lost an ear. Her ex-boyfriend Anthony Edward Riley was jailed for paying Harrison to carry out the attack, while Harrison was jailed for four years.

She said: “I’d welcome any new legislation that makes it harder for people to buy the acid which will hopefully prevent some attacks but ultimately I think there’s only so much that will achieve.

“My belief is that the best way to deter acid attacks is to make it a mandatory life prison sentence for anyone who is involved.

“The person who threw the acid at me is out of prison after just two years. What sort of message does that give? I’ve been scarred for life but his life now just continues as normal.

Adele Bellis, who was scarred for life in an acid attack, wrote her autobiography to help warn others of the early signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire Adele Bellis, who was scarred for life in an acid attack, wrote her autobiography to help warn others of the early signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

“If people knew they’d get a life sentence for throwing acid I think it’d make them think twice. I wonder in my case if he’d known he’d have got a longer jail sentence that it would have stopped him from doing it.”

•The law

Currently the sale of acids and bleaches, from everyday household cleaning products to industrial strength drain cleaners, are completely unregulated.

It is perfectly legal for anyone to walk into a shop and purchase these products, although some councils have issued guidance to retailers.

A Norfolk police spokesman said they “urge all retailers to act responsibly regarding the sale of corrosive substances”.

“Where we have information about businesses selling potentially harmful substances, an intelligence report will be created and officers will advise them of the potential risks of selling to unknown persons,” they said.

Those calling for law change say strong acids should only be sold to those with a licence and other household cleaning products should be available only to over 18s.

Some firms have already chosen to restrict sales. At DIY store Thorns in Norwich a sign states drain cleaners are not sold to U18s.

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