Three men have been found guilty after they sprayed ammonia and violently assaulted unsuspecting drivers in order to steal their vehicles.
The men carried out two attacks, including on former boxer Michael Watson MBE, who had the substance sprayed in his face and was dragged along the ground in the Ridgeway, E4.
Convicted today at Snaresbrook Crown Court were Anselm Legemah, 23 (30.11.94), of Elkington Road, E13, Simon Luck, 29 (23.07.89), of Bluebell Avenue E12 and Paul Samuels, 31 (18.11.86), of Bluebell Avenue.
Luck and Samuels were found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit robbery and applying a corrosive fluid with intent to burn, maim, disfigure or disable, or to inflict grievous bodily harm.
Legmah was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit robbery and applying a corrosive fluid with intent to burn, maim, disfigure or disable, or to inflict grievous bodily harm.
They will be sentenced at the same court on 21 September.
The court heard Legemah, Luck and Samuels were professional robbers who scouted the streets in a stolen vehicle looking for other high value vehicles to steal.
The group would approach their intended target from the rear, either blocking them in or shunting them to stop the vehicle they intended to steal before they would incapacitate them by spraying a noxious substance into their face.
Their vehicles were then commandeered and driven away at speed, leaving the victims to suffer with their injuries, some of which were life-changing, both physically and mentally.
The first incident occurred shortly after 00.30 on 4 February 2017. A white Audi, driven by a 19-year-old man with a 16-year-old girl in the passenger seat, stopped on the forecourt of a petrol station in Church Hill Loughton, Essex.
The vehicle was quickly blocked in by a white Mercedes, later discovered to be stolen and on cloned plates.
Inside the Mercedes were at least three men including Luck who was the driver, Samuels who was dressed in a distinctive tracksuit (black and red) and Legamah (in grey tracksuit).
Two of the men got out of the car and made their way over to the Audi. One of the men, believed to be Samuels, then sprayed the driver in the face with noxious liquid. He suffered permanent damage to his eyes.
The liquid also splashed onto the girl’s legs, causing burns.
The distressed victims fled and the suspects made off in the Audi, which was followed by the rest of the group in the Mercedes.
The subsequent police investigation proved Legemah and Luck had been at the scene of the crime by tracing their mobile phones.
Mr Watson was the victim of the second attack at 16:50 hours in the Ridgeway, E4 . He was the passenger in a VW Golf R when it was rammed from behind by the same stolen white Mercedes used in the previous attack.
Samuels got out of the Mercedes and attacked the driver of Mr Watson’s vehicle as he attempted to get out. The 54-year-old man had ammonia sprayed in his face, and was punched and kicked to the ground.
A second suspect then got in the car beside Mr Watson and sprayed him in the face with ammonia.
Mr Watson tried to escape but became tangled in his seatbelt and was dragged along the ground at speed, as the suspects tried to make off with the VW Golf. He suffered burn injuries to his shoulder as a result.
A spray bottle of ammonia was later discovered abandoned in the vehicle after the assailants had fled.
Officers began extensive search of all white Mercedes stolen in an attempt identify the vehicle the suspects had used, through those enquires a Mercedes was identified which was in a scarp yard having been found abandoned, DNA from Luck was discovered on the airbag of the vehicle. A bottle of ammonia was also found in the vehicle.
The car also had a cloned number plate on it and inside the car were other cloned number plates. This along with mobile telephone tracings conducted by officers linked all three defendants to the crime.
Clothes were also later discovered at the defendants addresses following a search by officers in October which matched that of clothing worn by the suspects in the incident in Loughton.
In a victim impact statement, Bradley Robinson the victim of the first offence on 4 February 2017 said: "As soon as the acid hit me I was immediately terrified. A man approached on my window asking for a lighter and as I turned my head acid was thrown in my face. My face and neck went numb and my vision blurred instantly, I was panic stricken and could not piece together what even happened I didn't know I had been the victim of an acid attack. I was dragged from my car and left in the courtyard trying to feel my way around while they drove off. My passenger, had to jump from the moving car. It took 15-20 minutes before I could feel my face and eyes burning. It hit me all at once. The incident has had a negative impact on every aspect of my life and will continue to do so for the rest of my life."
Detective Constable Tom Lockwood from Tower Hamlets CID said: “The three defendants showed absolutely no consideration for the innocent people they scarred both mentally and physically during these offences to steal high value vehicles. Their actions show a complete lack of humanity; their frightening and thoughtless motives have wreaked havoc on the lives of those affected.
“I would like to commend the bravery of those who gave evidence in court as well as thank the investigating officers involved for their painstaking work to bring these offenders to justice.
“I hope these convictions can bring a sense of justice to all of those whose lives were affected by these cowardly men.
“The public should be reassured that we will not stop in our mission to apprehend and bring to justice those responsible for such serious crimes.”
Detective Superintendent Mark Broom, Tower Hamlets CID said: "This case would not have been solved without the commitment of the investigating officer DC Lockwood and the support of Mr Robinson and Mr Watson. I’d like to take this opportunity not to talk about the men who have been rightly convicted today, but to thank the people who were viciously attacked. Without the support of the public our ability to convict criminals is made more difficult; we appreciate the way this investigation has been assisted.
"The way the offences were undertaken by these males showed no regard for victim and the consequences of their actions, I hope that the verdict today will give pause to those who might seek to use noxious substances to commit crime."