Emergency services simulate ‘horrific’ acid attack at gay nightclub Heaven

Warning: This article contains images some readers may find distressing.
Emergency services from across London today carried out a simulated attack on the capital’s largest gay nightclub.

The ‘Project Diffuse’ exercise saw officers from the Metropolitan Police, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service together with Heaven staff war-game a hypothetical attack with a corrosive substance at the nightclub.

The “full-scale, real-time simulation” of an attack showed how a single assailant with a bottle of corrosive acid can rapidly cause serious casualties, with a balaclava-clad attacker quickly injuring ten people.

Acid attack simulation in Heaven (Amy Ashenden)

Heaven security staff were involved in the initial response of the incident, demonstrating the difficulties businesses face in treating acid attacks, which require a continuous flow of water.

Emergency service staff then attended the scene, with firefighters and paramedics working to treat the victims with a continuous flow of water.

The simulation was attended by stakeholders in businesses and venues from across the capital.

Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Mike West, who leads the police force’s response to acid attack crimes, spoke to PinkNews after the exercise.

Although some gay bar owners privately expressed fears that acid could be deployed in a targeted homophobic attack, the officer stressed that the force has never seen an acid attack at an LGBT venue.

He said: “We have seen no [acid] offences linked to LGBT venues, and no LGBT hate crimes – we have seen corrosive-based hate crimes, but that’s been more of a racial issue rather than an LGBT issue.

“I can reassure the community that we aren’t seeing them in London, but we monitor on a regular basis. We keep a very careful eye and if anything like that was to come through.”

Asked if LGBT venues like Heaven are equipped to face a potential attack, he said: “I think after today, we can probably say yes.

“If they didn’t have what they needed, then they will have now. [Heaven staff] brought out some significant size water containers with directional shower-heads.

Acid attack simulation in Heaven (Amy Ashenden)

“They did a great job today, and I think you can be reassured that they were very slick.

“It may have been an exercise but they treated it very seriously, and I can only imagine in a real live event, they’re going to be really on it, and looking to keep as many people safe as they can.”

Acid attack simulation in Heaven (Amy Ashenden)

He added: “I think some businesses are prepared… there are certain areas of London that are definitely very prepared, we share that information widely.

“It’s the responsibility of the businesses to take that advice, to invest what is not a large amount of money into just being prepared.

“I think there’s work to be done, and we’ll continue to work closely, not just with the security industry, but with a wider partnership to make sure we’re sharing our journey.”

Acid attack simulation in Heaven (Amy Ashenden)

The government’s Crime Minister Victoria Atkins attended the simulation – and was stood just feet away from the victims at the time of the simulated attack.

She said: “Attacks using acid and other corrosive substances are barbaric crimes that devastate lives and can leave victims with life changing injuries and emotional scars.

“This morning’s exercise highlighted the vital role clubs, bars and pubs play in helping to keep people safe. Alongside this, we are working closely with the police to ensure they have the powers and tools they need to tackle these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“The Offensive Weapons Bill, currently before Parliament, will introduce a new offence of possessing acid in a public place and will ban their sale to under 18s.”

Heaven nightclub (Amy Ashenden)

London Ambulance Service tactical adviser Inspector Chris Reeves explained: “Thinking about how the acid attack started, there was a lot of noise, people started to scream – I was watching some of [the observers’] faces and I’m sure some people found it quite disturbing and quite shocking, which I think it probably was. It was quite realistic.

“The medical teams started to pour water onto people, but those bottles quickly [ran out]. The emergency teams started to arrive – police, fire, ambulance.

“It probably felt quite a long time – that’s probably realistic. We average seven-and-a-half minutes response time for those high-priority calls, but that’s quite a long time, so we really want that help [before that].”

Acid attack simulation in Heaven (Amy Ashenden)

PC Parham added: “Diffuse came about because we when we looked at the issues around mass casualty incidents around clubs, we identified that when dealing with a corrosive based attack, one of the key players – the venue owners and the security teams that work within the clubs – weren’t being engaged with.

“How best can we prepare? With corrosives the damage is pretty instantaneous, and will start off with a minor injury that quickly becomes life-changing.”