Extreme Body Modification – the law is clear, well sort of!

A Safeguarding Hub – 23 minute read.

In March this year, 50-year old Brendan McCarthy appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court where he was sentenced to three years and four months imprisonment. A few weeks earlier he had pleaded guilty to three counts of causing grievous bodily harm against three separate victims. His crimes didn’t involve losing the plot in a drunken brawl, were not driven by a feued or vendetta against others, nor were they gang, drug or domestic related. Instead the charges against McCarthy involved unlawful body modification – tongue-splitting, removing an ear and cutting off a nipple.

McCarthy, a tattooist and cosmetic piercer owned a self-styled business called ‘Dr Evil’s Body Modification Emporium’ in Wolverhampton. His victims were willing customers and the procedures he carried out were all requested and consensual. Nevertheless, permission from his clients did not prevent McCarthy from being convicted of serious assaults.

More and more young people are exploring body art, often following many of their heroes they see on TV and in the media. However, extreme body modification and body art have the potential to pose a risk of harm, particularly to children and young people. So, what are the potential safeguarding issues and what protection does the law offer to those that just might be vulnerable?


There is very little safeguarding information available on the internet around young people exploring body art. However, the best (and possibly the only) resources we have seen have been produced by Sheffield City Council. They have developed an awareness campaign, providing children and young people in Sheffield with impartial information about piercing and tattooing. They have a number of resources on their body modification page.

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