Fear as arson cases soar in Suffolk

FIRE bosses last night spoke of their concern as it emerged arson in Suffolk has soared in the last year - costing taxpayers well over £100,000 and putting lives at risk.

By Danielle Nuttall

FIRE bosses last night spoke of their concern as it emerged arson in Suffolk has soared in the last year - costing taxpayers well over £100,000 and putting lives at risk.

New figures show that almost 1,500 fires were deliberately started in the county during 2006/07, a leap of 8% on than the previous year.

Most of the blazes involved grass, heath land, cars and rubbish bins but fire bosses say all of these directed resources away from real emergencies and could have cost lives.

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Figures released by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service show 1,444 fires were started deliberately during 2006/07 compared to 1,338 in 2005/06.

Fire services across the country are under pressure by the Government to reduce arson by at least 10% by 2010 but so far in Suffolk the problem is growing.

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And with a spate of suspicious fires across the county in recent weeks, there are fears the figures will be even worse by the end of April next year.

John Wilcock, divisional officer and western area group manager, said: “It's very alarming; particularly in respect of the amount of work we are putting into this.

“It's expensive every time a fire engine turns out of a station.

“But if you go to a fire three miles out of the town which is started deliberately and a more serious fire occurs in the town centre then someone's life could be at risk.

“It also has a huge knock on effect. If there is a suspicious fire at a factory, then people are out of work and the community is badly affected.

“In Suffolk we do not have the problems of the bigger services such as Manchester and London but we still have problems.”

The majority of the suspicious fires in the county last year occurred in Ipswich (627), followed by Waveney (222), Bury St Edmunds (178), Babergh (130), Mid-Suffolk (106), Forest Heath (93) and Suffolk Coastal (88).

Most of the suspicious fires did not turn out to be serious.

But a worrying trend has emerged which has seen suspects lighting wheelie bins next to windows or buildings, which could result in a major blaze, said Mr Wilcock.

The fire service is working with young people because research shows they are mostly likely to be responsible for arson incidents across the county.

A project involving the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds has seen schoolchildren educated through drama about the effects of fire.

“Arson is effectively criminal damage and anti-social behaviour.

“Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service works closely with the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) and arson is one of our core objectives for this year,” said Mr Wilcock.

“Eighty percent of fires in schools are arson, normally by ex-pupils.

“We do a lot of preventative work with young children. We also have a fire-setter counselling service for youngsters who show an unhealthy interest in fire where we go and teach them about the dangers.”

Mr Wilcock also sent out a stark warning to would-be arsonists, promising they would be caught.

“If a life is threatened, it can mean life in prison,” he added.

“We hope by working with our partners and the police we can reduce the amount of arson we have in the county.”

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