Two refugees who fled a brutal dictatorship have spoken of the terrifying moment they had acid thrown in their faces on a Thornton Heath street, blinding one of them.
The violent and unprovoked attack has shocked the community and in a renewed police appeal for information, to prevent the assailant striking again, Crimestoppers have offered a £5,000 reward.
However, it is little solace to the victims, aged 19 and 25, refugees from Eritrea, who burned and disfigured by the acid will live with the scars and trauma of that day forever.
The Croydon based Da’aro Youth Project charity which is working with the victims has raised over £20,000 after setting up a JustGiving page to help deal with the life-changing injuries caused by the horrendous attack on Monday December 7 which happened on Gonville Road as they walked to college.
The 19-year-old sadly has permanent sight loss as a result of the attack.
Speaking to The Chronicle he said: “It is very hard for me to explain. Mentally and physically I have lost so many things.
“I wish I could go to church and pray with my people. But now, nobody is able to help me. It is the worst experience I have ever had
“We come from Eritrea. In this country we don’t have the opportunity to study because of the dictatorship.
“It was a long journey to the UK, I suffered a lot in Libya and in Calais. I believed that the UK was a good country, where people believe in law. I didn’t think this kind of attack would happen to me here.
“I just thought I could study and help my family. I didn’t expect someone would attack me. My injury is forever. I didn’t expect this would happen –I didn’t know about acid before this attack. I didn’t know what it was.”
The teenager, who has leave to remain, thanked donors: “I really appreciate for what they have done. All of these people who have supported me are very good people. May god bless them, would like to thank everyone individually.
The 25-year-old victim, who suffered facial burns and injuries to his eyes is an asylum-seeker from Eritrea still awaiting outcome of his claim said: “We left my friend’s house early to go to college. When we were walking to college, we saw a man with a mask walking towards us. We didn’t expect anything. We were waiting for the lights to change at the pedestrian crossing on Thornton Road in front of the St Jude with St Aidan Church.
Suddenly, completely unprovoked, the man threw acid at my friend’s face and then my face too. It was more than painful. I was completely blinded. I ran out into the road, not seeing where I was going. My friend ran away, screaming, along Thornton Road. The attacker ran away down Limpsfield Avenue.
A man stopped his car and called the ambulance. I could hear them but couldn’t see anything. They told me to pour water on my face, I had a bottle in my bag and I poured it on my face. They helped flag down the ambulance. I didn’t see my friend again until much later that night.”
We are not naming the victims who fear retribution.
They are both urging their attacker to go to the police and admit to ‘what you have done’ but fear: “We are worried they could attack us again or attack another person. We feel it is not safe for anyone until they are caught.”
The Da’aro Youth Project which was established in 2018 by members of the Eritrean community in London in response to the deaths of a number of teenage Eritreans by suicide put questions to the victims on behalf of The Chronicle.
The 25-year-old who is studying to be an engineer but is presently remote learning added: “It is unacceptable to me what is happened. We do not know why this has happened – Is this man who attacked us a racist?
At 8am in the morning – someone comes and throws acid, can you imagine? I haven’t been able to sleep since this happened to me. I think many things that are not good to thing. I am afraid to go outside. I didn’t have idea people could attack other people like this in the UK.”
The perpetrator of this acid attack had been seen by one of the victims a few months earlier, on Monday September 7, when he called at their address claiming to have a letter for him.
When the victim went into the street (as seen in the CCTV footage) the suspect punched him in the face.
DC Dimitri Savathrakis, of the South Area CID reactive team, said: “This was a violent and unprovoked attack on two innocent victims and we are doing everything in our power to bring the person responsible to justice.”
Deputy leader of the council Stuart King, who is the ward councillor for West Thornton where the attack happened described it as an ‘absolutely despicable and cowardly act ’ and urged anyone with information to contact the police.
The suspect is described as a white or Asian man in his 30’s with a slim build. At the time of the attack he was wearing a blue medical mask, a long black jacket with the hood up, black trousers and shoes.
Alexa Loukas, London Regional Manager at the charity Crimestoppers, said:“The individual behind the acid attack could strike again, so it’s critical that anyone who knows or has suspicions about who was involved contacts our charity 100 per cent anonymously.”
Can you help? Do you recognise the attacker telephone report anonymously. Freephone Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org