The delivery driver who was the first victim of Thursday’s spate of acid attacks in east London said he had been calling for safer conditions for drivers for months.
Jabed Hussain, 32, an UberEats delivery driver, was on his moped at the corner of Queensbridge Road and Hackney Road when two men on a moped pulled up to his left and threw the liquid on him.
It was the first of five acid attacks to take place in a three-mile radius that has left at least one victim with what the police described as life-changing injuries. But delivery drivers including Hussain told the Guardian that part of Hackney had been infamous for knife and other attacks on drivers in recent months.
“First of all, I didn’t realise it was acid; then it started to burn. I saw they wanted to do it again, so I jumped off my bike and tried to hide from them behind cars,” Hussain said.
As they stole his moped, he ran to cars stopped at the traffic lights, knocking on the windows and begging for help. “I was screaming for help and for water. No one was opening their door or window.”
A minicab driver eventually gave Hussain water to ease the burning. Each time he stopped dousing himself, the burning resumed. A passerby bought water at a nearby shop and called an ambulance and Hussain contacted a group of fellow delivery drivers who run a WhatsApp group that they use, in part, to alert one another to attacks. “As soon as I sent the message on the WhatsApp group, they all came,” Hussain said.
Video from the scene shows him shirtless and being doused with water by the police, surrounded by delivery drivers. By the time an ambulance arrived, he was shivering with shock.
John Moody, a black-cab driver who watched the scene from over the road, described seeing him “absolutely petrified and beyond shock, the poor boy”.
Hussain spent the night in the Royal London hospital. “I’m really lucky– the helmet is melted and my jumper is burned,” he said. “The helmet saved me – the acid bounced off my helmet and only a bit got on my face … last night I couldn’t talk properly because my left lip is kind of bruised,” he said.
“I’m not bothering about my bike, I was bothering about my face I was just asking my wife, if anything happened to my face would you still look after me?
“When it started burning I thought, I’m going to lose my face … why are boys who can’t buy cigarettes allowed to buy acid?”
Hussain said he and his fellow drivers had been feeling unsafe for months and used their WhatsApp group as a warning system. One driver told the Hackney Gazette earlier this month that the crime wave meant that 40 out of 50 drivers were refusing to work in the area after 9.30pm.
“We pay tax, we serve food. We’re not terrorists, we’re not criminals … we’re normal, hard-working people. Why are we not safe?” asked Hussain.
“I emailed the mayor of London to say, we are 2,500 drivers. We want to meet with you because it’s not safe. But they said we’re not free.” The Guardian has contacted the mayor of London’s office for comment.
Other delivery drivers, who asked not to be named because they did not want to get into trouble with Deliveroo and UberEats, echoed Hussain’s concerns.
“For the last few months, everywhere there’s robberies,” said one. “At red lights, three or four people will come with hammers and take the motorbike.”
The Hackney Road area had become especially notorious for such incidents.
“As soon as you go past Dalston, it starts to get rough,” said a 22-year-old who has been driving for Deliveroo for a year. He said the company should create its own insurance or provide company-branded mopeds for the drivers to use.
“I wouldn’t stay on jobs past 10pm,” he said. “I don’t feel safe normally during the day … every time I go out, my wife gets worried because she knows what’s happening.”
His friend, who is 24 and has been driving for both UberEats and Deliveroo for about the same length of time, said: “They hold you up with a knife and they take your bike and your phone. It’s this area – it’s a danger zone … it’s all young kids.”
An UberEats driver aged 25 who has been driving for the company for a month said his wife had asked him to stop delivering to the area. “My wife is crying, saying come out from Hackney, go to Enfield and work there. But I’m saying, I have to do my job – I can’t run away from people.”
Nonetheless, he said the acid attacks made him more scared than previously. “You can lose your eyes,” he said.
Deliveroo emailed its drivers on Friday to say it was “truly shocked” by the acid attacks and asking any drivers with information to contact the company.
UberEats confirmed one of its drivers was a victim. Toussaint Wattinne, the firm’s general manager in London, said: “All of us are shocked by this horrific and senseless attack. We have been in touch with the courier and offered to help him and his family in any way we can.
“We would like to thank all the couriers who rushed to help in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
“Our team has been contacting couriers in the area at the time, encouraging them to contact the police if they have any information which could assist them.”A Deliveroo spokesman said one of the victims of the attack was a Deliveroo driver: “These are truly shocking attacks and we are working with the authorities to help bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The spokesman added he had met with delivery drivers recently “to better understand and deal with their safety concerns” and had been working with the police to improve safety.