Crackdown curbs Norwich arson attacks

Shaun LowthorpeTeenage arsonists are being forced to face the error of their ways as part of a pioneering scheme to cut arson in the city.Shaun Lowthorpe

Teenage arsonists are being forced to face the error of their ways as part of a pioneering scheme to cut arson in the city.

The number of arson attacks has fallen by 47pc in the last year thanks to a partnership between Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and police.

There were 60 attacks on buildings, cars, sheds and bins in the second quarter of last year but this fell to 32 in the following three months after fire chiefs set about tackling the problem in a partnership with police safer neighbourhood teams in Heartsease and Thorpe Hamlet. The number of fires not involving buildings fell from 120 to 48.

During the hot summer months Mousehold Heath was a particularly target among arsonists, while they were also responsible for the last November's blaze in the derelict Cumberland Hotel in Thorpe Road.

The fall was also thanks to an education campaign among city householders urging them not to leave their bins out overnight and encouraging people who see any suspicious behaviour to report it.

While serious offences were dealt with by the courts, fire chiefs also worked on a 'restorative justice' approach which meant that officers sat down with low level offenders and talked through the potential consequences of their actions.

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The majority of arson attacks are the work of young people and the sit-down sessions are part of a campaign to win over the hearts of minds of youngsters including high school visits by the Stopwatch Theatre Group.

The fire service also has its own arson reduction officer, Dave Farrow, an ex-policeman, who had previously worked successfully in Thetford to help get arson attacks down, by helping spot potential targets.

Richard Herrell, group Manager at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said: 'Over the past few years we have been working hard to reduce the number of incidents of arson in Norwich and now that work seems to be producing results. It is right to say we have given the issue an added focus in recent months which makes these results all the more pleasing.

'For the first time we are also trying a restorative justice approach, working with those responsible and confronting them with what they have done and explaining the possible consequences of their actions.

'It is right to say that while we are pleased to see a fall in arson in the city for this period we are far from complacent and we know there is more to do,' he added. 'We are actively working with partners within the city to improve our intelligence model allowing us build clearer pictures and patterns of behaviour. We are also looking to improve detection of offenders intervene where appropriate through our young fire setters education programme.

'The message to the people of Norwich is please continue to help us help you. Please remain vigilant, particularly where derelict properties are concerned. Be aware and report people occupying or accessing such buildings to the police.'