The colour of justice is not blind in the UK. What I am going to say in this blog may not be popular but I am very troubled by certain facts that are being conveniently ignored. Before I knew the full details of the case as reported in media this summer (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-43812521) I made the assumption that the person who had been convicted of manslaughter was a young black man. And Xeneral Webster is young and black and was involved in the absolutely tragic death of an innocent bystander. And sentenced to 17 years in prison.

I do not know why he had armed himself with a bottle of acid and all I could gather from the reports is that it was knocked out of his hand by another young man. What I do know is that this was not the first case of a death from acid in the UK. That would be the deliberate assault of the manager of the Ritz Nightclub in Manchester in 1990. It was concentrated hydrofluoric acid and the victim died eight hours after the assault from overwhelming calcium chelation. I know because I was there as the senior registrar. The prosecution wanted to portray a cold and calculating killer in this latest case, although from my reading of the case it was not his intent to kill this tragic nurse.

But there is more. Over the years I have developed a deep clinical interest in the acute and reconstructive management of acid assault victims. I have published a clinically proven protocol for the acute management of such injuries and if it is true that the victim in this case received a 5% BSA area burn she should not have died if she received appropriate care.

According to the press reports she was admitted to hospital but discharged after one day. She was subsequently re-admitted and died of sepsis. When a young boy died of sepsis in a Leicester hospital some years ago the treating doctor was convicted of manslaughter. The doctor was black, female, Muslim.

Justice should be blind, but in a society charged with racial, religious and cultural tensions we see justice perverted. I am not a mamby pamby liberal and have spoken in the strongest terms to support a capital charge for the deliberate and evil act of destruction which is the consequence of an acid assault. This strategy worked effectively in Bangladesh where capital punishment still exists. There is no doubt that the Crown Prosecution Service would have wanted to use the case of Xeneral Webster to send a message to other disaffected black youths in the fracturing UK society. But is it the right message?

I really do not know, but what I do know is that no-one in the UK should die from a 5% BSA burn caused by concentrated sulphuric acid. How and why the medical treatment failed needs to be fully investigated. Acid burns do not just occur as the result of assaults, they occur as the result of accidents. And we need to be better prepared to treat them.

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Andrew Burd (Prof)

Editor - Freelance Medico/Legal Consultant.

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