A man feared he had been permanently blinded after he and his partner were targeted with pepper spray in a suspected homophobic attack in London.
The couple were waiting at a bus stop in Lambeth’s Brixton Road when the stranger doused them without warning.
The assailant, who was with four friends, told them: “We don’t want your kind around here.”
Speaking out about the incident, Matthew – who asked not to give his last name – said: “We were being quite affectionate to each other, kissing, holding hands... and then suddenly from nowhere this guy just came and sprayed something directly in my eyes.
“I fell to the ground. I thought I was never going to see again. I thought I was going to be blind. The pain was just really intense.”
Such was the seriousness of the attack, the couple had to be rushed to hospital by paramedics to have their eyes medically cleaned.
Now, with the attacker still at large following the 19 January incident, the 23-year-old has spoken of the ordeal for the first time as part of a police appeal for information.
He said the assault had left he and his partner, 22, worried about going out.
“We won’t hold hands, we won’t show any kind of affection to each other. It’s not really fair we can’t do that because we’re worried,” he told the Press Association news agency.
But he also added: “Gay people are a thing. We’re not going away no matter how much you attack us or abuse us.”
Detective Inspector Dave Adams, of London’s Metropolitan Police, appealed for witnesses.
He said the five men were inside the nearby KFC restaurant shortly before the attack and were near the bus stop when one of them ran and sprayed Matthew and his partner.
“We particularly want to identity the man wearing a beanie hat,” he said.
Police also believe the men were involved in an earlier assault on two people inside the KFC but that incident was not being treated as a hate crime.