Addressing the behaviour of adult arsonists

Grenfell Tower pic by Natalie Oxford via TwitterThe devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London recently, reminded us all off the ferocity and dangers of fire. Though the fire started in a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. The growth of the fire is believed to have been accelerated by the building’s exterior cladding.

It is therefore perhaps surprising to note that elsewhere, work with those who deliberately set fires remains under evaluated and under resourced.

Compared with approaches and research in the fields of other offences such as violence there is a huge gap in our understanding of what comprises an effective approach to work with adult arsonists. Not only that; it is recognised as being under estimated, and yet the consequences of any fire can be horrific.

In fairness pioneering work by Theresa Gannon at the University of Kent has shed more light in this area but is confined mostly to serious offenders with significant mental health problems and requires the involvement of trained psychologists. For me the reality is that there are a large number of those who set fires in the general prison population or in other parts of the criminal justice system where nothing really is done to address this behaviour.

arson in the UKSupported by Portsmouth University Hampshire Fire and Rescue Arson Reduction team are piloting a short programme to counter this gap, and we are honoured to be involved in assisting with their work.  For any credible effort to be recognised as effective it must have evaluation to assess its ability to address positively that behaviour.  Yet another issue is that it should be capable of delivery by fire-fighters so that it becomes available quickly and is deliverable by those who have experienced the reality of fire.

So far the programme has been piloted in a number of prison establishments and those experiences have led to further development. Evaluation is underway and what impressed me about the team was the enthusiasm, selflessness and commitment shown in order to fill the gap. The feeling I was left with was that all of us agreed that whatever the challenges this was something that had to succeed as it was the right thing to do.

David KolkoA conference which looks at the measures to be taken or which are being taken to seriously address this problem is being held in London on 25th September and Damien Watts from Hampshire FRS will be one of the guest speakers along with Professor David Kolko from Pittsburgh University and Professor Theresa Gannon from the University of Kent.


Picture by Natalie Oxford via Twitter