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Acid attacker jailed for 18 years following "horrifying attacks"

News   •   Sep 25, 2017 12:07 BST

Image: Gerard Whelan

A burglar who sprayed acid at a 69-year-old woman in her own home and carried out a “horrifying” series of noxious substance enabled robberies has been jailed.

Gerard Whelan, 46, (28.07.71) of Penfold Place, Paddington was jailed for 18 years at Wood Green Crown Court on Monday, 25 September.

He admitted grievous bodily harm with intent at the same court on 14 July.

The court heard how he squeezed acid from a white bottle onto the 69-year-old woman during a night-time burglary in Ilford on 13 December 2016.

She suffered burns to a quarter of her body and had to undergo skin grafts and surgeries, with permanent scars to her arms, legs, body and face. The acid was found to be of the same strength as sulphuric acid. Whelan, also admitted aggravated burglary at the same hearing.

A number of other offences carried out on two other days in December, several of which also involved squeezing liquid from a bottle onto victim’s faces or bodies.

On 12 December, Whelan broke into a home in Lynford Gardens, Ilford the first of a series of offences on the same day. He threatened his 89-year-old victim with a screwdriver, sprayed a substance he said was acid on the wall, and demanded money. His victim handed over £190.

Later he assaulted a 62-year-old man in an attempted robbery during which he poured liquid from a container onto the man but as he was wearing a jacket the liquid did not touch his skin and he ran to his house.

Whelan also tried to rob a 39-year-old woman of a car as she was dropping her daughter off at school, attempting to spray her with liquid but missing.

Another man, aged 40, was squirted with liquid after he lowered the window of his car experiencing a burning sensation to his mouth and eyes. Whelan climbed into the car and demanded the car keys, but the victim took the keys and ran.

Finally he assaulted a 38-year-old woman to try and steal her handbag, throwing over her face what she thought was acid, but later said smelt more like ammonia, from a small aerosol with the spray nozzle removed. She could feel liquid burning and stinging her skin and was unable to see out of her left eye. Although there was no permanent damage the cells on the surface of her eye had completely gone. He also attempted to throw the liquid at her husband when he tried to intervene.

On 13 December, Whelan broke into his 69-year-old victim’s home in Westwood Road, Ilford, as she slept. When she woke up he was holding a screwdriver over her as she lay in her bed saying: "If you don’t be quiet I will kill you." He took a bangle and rings from her hand and arm and made her sit downstairs while he searched kitchen cupboards.

When she tried to escape he stopped her and squeezed a substance onto her from a white bottle causing her serious injuries. He also broke her little finger in a struggle for the screwdriver.

On 25 December, Whelan pretended to be an undercover police officer to talk to a 36-year-old man sitting in a car in Goring Road, N11, before squeezing from a bottle what the victim thought was acid into his eye but which was later cleaned with saline wash with no lasting damage to his face or eye. Whelan also threatened him with a screwdriver but was unable to drive the car away.

He then assaulted a second man, aged 62, in nearby Moffatt Road with the butt of a screwdriver four times while trying to get the keys to a car. DNA from a crutch which Whelan was carrying linked him to the offence.

Whelan also assaulted a 58-year-old woman, throwing her to the ground after she had started the engine of her car, hitting her with his crutch

Senior Investigating Officer, DS Brett Hagen, said: "The length of the sentence today reflects the gravity and callous nature of these acid attacks. Whelan embarked on a series of horrifying offences against a raft of innocent and vulnerable members of the public, many of whom were lucky not to incur serious injury.

“Unfortunately several of the victims did sustain life changing injuries as a result of being sprayed with a noxious substance. One of these elderly ladies spent over eight weeks in hospital and now, some nine months later, still hasn’t returned to work or regained full mobility of both arms. The attached pictures show the extent of the injuries Whelan inflicted on her, after he had threatened to kill her and she had tried to escape."

Detective Superintendent Mike West, leading the response to corrosive attacks for the MPS, said: "This was a truly terrible series of offences, resulting in long lasting injuries to the victim’s and having an ongoing impact on them and their families. I would like to praise the victim’s for ensuring that Whelan got the sentence that met the seriousness of the crimes he has committed, and for Detective Sergeant Brett Hagen’s and DC Kevin Rowley dedication to the case and the families involved.

“This is a message to anyone who seeks to cause another person harm with a corrosive substance who thinks we don’t have existing laws to tackle such attacks. We will put everything we have in to supporting members of our communities who report these crimes, we will track you down and we will make sure you have the same severe sentences, as Gerard Whelan got today, using the CPS and courts."