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Acid becoming weapon of choice on Britain's streets -

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MATT WORDSWORTH: On the streets of Britain, acid is becoming the weapon of choice for violent gangs.

It's a crime that leaves many victims physically and psychologically scarred and with the number of attacks surging, there are growing calls for police and politicians to do more.

Europe correspondent James Glenday reports and a warning, this story contains graphic images.

JAMES GLENDAY, EUROPE CORRESPONDENT: On the streets of London, moped crime is on the rise.

WITNESS: Get that licence plate.

JAMES GLENDAY: Young gang members snatch phones and bags or break into shops before fleeing at high speed.

But to get the goods, they first need a bike and to steal that, some are turning to a terrifying weapon - acid.

AMBULANCE OFFICER: Where does it hurt mate? Your eyes? We have to try to get water into your eyes.

JAMES GLENDAY: Five takeaway delivery drivers were recently splashed with acid and robbed on a single night.

Jabed Hussain was one of them and only his helmet saved him.

JABED HUSSAIN, ACID ATTACK VICTIM: Suddenly, I heard the sound of water on my face, on my face.

JAMES GLENDAY: On your helmet?

JABED HUSSAIN: I looked left and I saw these two boys just literally on my left-hand side.

JAMES GLENDAY: You could feel it burning your face?

JABED HUSSAIN: Yeah, I feel like someone put fire on my face. I didn't know what to do. I was just screaming. I was like crazy. I didn't know what to do.

I was in the middle of the road to stop someone for some water.

JAMES GLENDAY: How are you now? Are your lips still burned?

JABED HUSSAIN: Well, compared to others, I am lucky.

JAMES GLENDAY: Acid can cause horrific burns and its use is not limited to bike theft.

Samir Hussein was scarred for life after being randomly attacked outside a cinema two years ago.

SAMIR HUSSAIN, ACID ATTACK VICTIM: It's instant because as soon as the liquid touches anything, it just starts corroding and for that split-second, I knew it wasn't water and that's when the burning kicked in and, yeah, my face and arm and neck started to corrode away.

JAMES GLENDAY: He has had a number of operations and spends an hour a day rubbing cream into his scars.

The pressure mask will remain for another eight months but the psychological damage will linger for life.

SAMIR HUSSAIN: I think one thing that's always going to stick in my mind is the lady who did help me, she said there is one thing she will never forget and that's the smell of burning skin.

JAMES GLENDAY: Acid attacks have a long history in Britain. Throwing vitriol as sulphuric acid was known was a stain on Victorian society two centuries ago but attacks have increased significantly in recent years and there have been at least 1,800 cases of corrosive household items like bleach and drain cleaner being used as a weapon since 2010, giving the UK one of the worst records in the developed world.

SIMON HARDING, CRIMINOLOGIST, MIDDLESEX UNIVERSITY: 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 as opposed to a weapon of last resort.

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 and it generates notoriety, reputation, it builds status and reputation, generates fear.

JAMES GLENDAY: Acid is being increasingly used in gang warfare because it's really very easy to get.

I've just bought these bottles from the hardware store behind me. Unlike a knife or a gun, if I'm caught with one of these on the streets, police will have to prove that I'm intending to hurt someone which can be very, very difficult considering that this is a really strong household cleaner.

But all of these products have the potential to change someone's life in an instant.

ADELE BELLIS, ACID ATTACK VICTIM: As I went like that, he then chucked the acid so it got the side of my head, and you know, lost my ear, I could feel my ear melting.

My first reaction was "Oh, my God, he has just tipped water over me", then within seconds it was burning, as soon as it started burning, I just knew instantly it has got to be acid.

JAMES GLENDAY: Beauty therapist Adele Bellis was badly injured by an attack which was ordered by her abusive, controlling ex-boyfriend.

She says jail terms must be increased.

ADELE BELLIS: With my attacker, obviously he was out last month serving two years, two months, yeah, two years, two months.

JAMES GLENDAY: So the man who threw this on you only served two years and two months, is that fair?

ADELE BELLIS: Oh, no. He went guilty. He did help me at court but why should he have got 10 years knocked off his sentence? He still done it. He was the one that scarred me, not my ex, he done it, you know, and I have to live with it for the rest of my life, so why should he be out living a life while I'm still recovering?

PROTESTERS: We want to be, ... safe.

JAMES GLENDAY: Delivery drivers and a number of other victims are campaigning for the UK Government to make off-the-shelf acid weaker, harder to buy and illegal to carry in unlabelled bottles on the street.

PROTESTER: Why do kids have acid? Why? This is the problem. The police are not doing nothing. We call them, they take 15 minutes to come. By that time, the person can be dead.

JAMES GLENDAY: The calls for change are being debated in Parliament but victims say the progress is too slow and they are warning other Western countries like Australia to take note of what's happening in Britain.

Do you think you will go back to a delivery driver?

JABED HUSSAIN: I am thinking because I'm really scared to go back again. My family don't want me to.

JAMES GLENDAY: They don't want you to?

JABED HUSSAIN: Yeah, yeah, really scare and they are not even letting me go outside myself.

ADELE BELLIS: It just angers me because how many more acid attacks do there need to be until something actually gets done? Like, you know, we need to start trying to prevent them, whether it be in high sentences or trying to restrict it.

If not, there is just going to keep being more.