Arson: sharing intelligence

Published:  15 January, 2016

Lee Howell, Chief Fire Officer of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (UK) and independent chairman of the Arson Prevention Forum seeks examples of co-operation between the fire and police community in identifying arsonists.

According to the latest UK Fire Statistics, the number of deliberate primary fires in 2013-14 was down 8% from the previous year, with around 44% of deliberate fires occurring in road vehicles.

However, whilst deliberate fires are decreasing, the cost to the fire service, business and the insurance industry is not. The Association of British Insurers stated that their members pay out over £1 billion (US$1.5 billion) in fire-related claims each year and the larger loss fires are in non-domestic buildings.

As we know, collaboration is key and working together to improve the effectiveness of prevention, protection, investigation and diversion activities will help further reduce the incidence of arson. The Arson Prevention Forum provides a unique platform to bring key agencies together to help focus attention and resources in order to reduce the number, cost and impact of arson.

The Arson Prevention Forum is now calling for further examples of good practice from Fire and Rescue Services, specifically examples where arrangements are in place to facilitate the sharing of ‘soft’ intelligence with police colleagues. Often it is relatively straightforward to identify that a fire is deliberate but it is more difficult to link a particular individual with the fire scene.

DNA analysis and other scientific approaches (such as matching unique chemical composition of a particular type of accelerant with that found on the clothing of an individual), is becoming more prevalent but the very nature of fire means that some evidence is destroyed during the fire.

We are particularly interested in examples where information sharing from discussions between firefighters first on the scene and local parties have led to successful prosecutions.

We are also keen to see if youth diversion activities can be correlated with a reduced incidence of arson locally, recognising that well over 50% of arson suspects are under the age of 24.

With continued financial pressure on budgets, focusing more attention on arson prevention and reduction strategies will make communities safer as well as reducing response costs.

Sharing good practice, information and evaluation is key and the Arson Prevention Forum stands ready to assist coordinate activity across the various agencies with an interest in or responsibility for deliberate fires and arson.

  • Operation Florian

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