AN IRISH burglar who “horrifically” attacked a 69-year-old woman with acid in her own east London home has been jailed for 18 years.
Gerard Whelan, 45, rampaged around Ilford and Goodmayes on December 12 and 13 last year, attacking numerous passers-by armed with a screwdriver and noxious chemicals in a spray can.
On the first day of his burgling spree Whelan threatened an 89-year-old pensioner with acid in his home in Lynford Gardens, Ilford.
He then poured acid on a 62-year-old man in another attempted robbery, stole a 39-year-old woman’s car with her young daughter still inside, and squirted a man, aged 40, with liquid after he lowered the window of his car.
Whelan climbed into the vehicle and demanded the car keys, but the victim took the keys and ran.
Before the day was done, Whelan sprayed noxious chemicals at a 38-year-old woman before ripping her handbag away.
She was forced to move away from Ilford as she no longer felt safe in the area. She has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by her GP.
In a statement read out at Wood Green Crown Court, the woman said: “Most nights I cry myself to sleep.
“I scream in my sleep so loudly I wake up my husband and kids.”
A number of the victims of the attacks on December 12 reported “burning” and “itching” sensations to their mouths and faces.
But it was Whelan’s attack on the night of December 13, in Westwood Road, Goodmayes, that was his most brutal.
He woke a 69-year-old woman from her sleep and threatened her with a screwdriver, saying: “If you don’t be quiet I will kill you.”
When she attempted to escape he poured a substance similar to sulphuric acid over her, causing burns to 24 per cent of her body.
He also broke her little finger in a struggle for the screwdriver.
She has been forced to undergo multiple skin grafts and spent eight weeks in hospital following the incident, with permanent scars to her arms, legs, body and face.
In her victim impact statement, the woman said: “I was a 69-year-old woman and he was a young man, why was he doing this to me?
“I thought he was going to kill me.”
Before he was captured, Whelan, who was addicted to crack cocaine, went on a separate rampage on Christmas Day last year.
He pretended to be an undercover police officer to talk to a 36-year-old man sitting in a car in Goring Road, N11, before squeezing into his eye what the victim thought was acid.
The substance was later cleaned with saline wash with no lasting damage to the man's face or eye. Whelan also threatened the man with a screwdriver but was unable to drive the car away.
He then assaulted a second man, aged 62, in nearby Moffatt Road with the butt of a screwdriver four times while trying to get the keys to a car.
DNA from a crutch which Whelan was carrying linked him to the offence.
Whelan also assaulted a 58-year-old woman, throwing her to the ground after she had started the engine of her car, hitting her with his crutch.
DS Brett Hagen, the senior investigating officer on the case, said: "The length of the sentence today reflects the gravity and callous nature of these acid attacks.
“Whelan embarked on a series of horrifying offences against a raft of innocent and vulnerable members of the public, many of whom were lucky not to incur serious injury.
“Unfortunately several of the victims did sustain life-changing injuries as a result of being sprayed with a noxious substance.
“One of these elderly ladies spent over eight weeks in hospital and now, some nine months later, still hasn’t returned to work or regained full mobility of both arms. The attached pictures show the extent of the injuries Whelan inflicted on her, after he had threatened to kill her and she had tried to escape."
Detective Superintendent Mike West said: "This was a truly terrible series of offences, resulting in long-lasting injuries to the victims and having an ongoing impact on them and their families.
"I would like to praise the victims for ensuring that Whelan got the sentence that met the seriousness of the crimes he has committed, and for Detective Sergeant Brett Hagen’s and DC Kevin Rowley's dedication to the case and the families involved.
“This is a message to anyone who seeks to cause another person harm with a corrosive substance who thinks we don’t have existing laws to tackle such attacks.
“We will put everything we have into supporting members of our communities who report these crimes, we will track you down and we will make sure you have the same severe sentences, as Gerard Whelan got today, using the CPS and courts.”
Today at Wood Green Crown Court, Whelan, of Penfold Place, Paddington, was sentenced to 18 years in jail for his rampage. He was handed a further three years on licence, for 12 different offences.
He said he plans to move back to the small Irish village where he was born after his release so he doesn't “relapse”.