The number of chemical attacks against individuals has almost doubled in the past six years as evidence grows that criminals are using acid as a cheap but devastating weapon.
Four weeks ago, Wayne Ingold was collecting his post when two young men started banging at the communal front door of his flat in Witham, Essex.
When he opened it, they squirted liquid in his face from a drinks bottle. It was acid.
“I just panicked and the pain was just unbelievable and was getting worse by the second and I thought, ‘This is acid’,” he said.
“My face was turning yellow or it seemed to be and I didn’t want to put water on it as I didn’t know how it would affect it.”
In fact, that was exactly what he should have done and when the paramedics arrived, they stood him in the shower for 25 minutes. But significant damage had already been done.
His face, neck, shoulder and arm were severely burnt and Mr Ingold, a former wedding photographer, needed skin grafts.
He has barely slept in the past month and has been told the physical scars will remain for life.
But it is thought that this was a case of mistaken identity.
Mr Ingold, 56, said: “It’s a coward’s way because they know they can do it quickly and run … because they don’t think they are going to get caught.”
The attackers are yet to be tracked down.
In the past six years, assaults using corrosive substances that resulted in hospital treatment have nearly doubled in England from 71 to 130, according to NHS figures.
The Crown Prosecution Service has also revealed that offences involving the throwing or sending of dangerous substances ending up in court quadrupled in the past year, although the figures are still small.
It is believed that in many cases, police are never informed.
David Barnes is a consultant plastic surgeon at St Andrew’s Centre for Plastic Surgery and Burns at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford where Mr Ingold was treated.
He said the damage can be caused not only by acid, but also by alkalis.
“You can lose your sight which is absolutely devastating. With regards to the skin, they can cause quite deep burns and often require surgery and that can have quite far-reaching psychological effects.”