Teenagers are told by older gang members to “burn someone’s face” before they can be accepted into the fold, according to a former criminal-turned-government adviser.
The rituals are a horrifying new twist on the acid attack crime-wave that is sweeping Britain and which has left dozens of innocent victims permanently disfigured.
In London alone there has been 455 acid attacks over the past year, two thirds of which were against people, the remainder vandalising of cars and property.
Gwenton Sloly, a former gang member who now advises the Home Office in his role as a youth outreach worker warned that youngsters were able to concoct a weapon from household cleaning products for under £3 in minutes.
He said: “If you shoot someone the wounds are not visible – same with a stabbing.
“With acid they will be walking around with scars for the rest of their lives.
“The person who did it will be saying, ‘that’s my Van Gogh’. We’ve got young people leaving school who want to be seen as more dangerous than the people before them. So they are targeting random people to prove it. It’s also an initiation thing.”
Last weekend a lone 32-year-old paramedic in an ambulance car was targeted as she responded to a call about a man suffering chest pains.
She was flagged down and an attacker threw the contents of a bottle through the ambulance window on to her face, neck and chest.
The unidentified liquid, which in this instance is not thought to have been acidic, was noxious and caused irritation, She was taken to hospital as a precaution.
Simon Kempton, the lead on operational policing for the Police Federation, said the attack appeared to be a possible gangland initiation.
He said: “Anecdotally, there are also instances of people being targeted as part of a gang initiations. This is elder gang members forcing younger, would-be recruits to throw acid in someone’s face to prove their worth, to show they could do what they were told to do.
“It could either be a rival gang member or a completely innocent person, which is horrifying.
“We’ve seen similar tactics used by gangs before, it’s a culture taken from gangs in Los Angeles and the West Coast of America and is called being ‘jumped in’ – whereby someone would be made to fight a group of gang members to show they were tough enough to join.
“Officers have also reported that gang members in some areas, particularly London, have dipped the tips of their knives in acid.”
Mr Kempton also said that fewer officers on the streets meant less stop and searches which was encouraging criminals to carry bottles of acid.
An increasing number of attacks are carried out by moped riders, he added, because they know that police are reluctant to pursue them in case they cause an accident.
Last week, figures showed a 10 per cent rise in crime in England and Wales, the biggest leap for more than a decade.