IF YOU commit arson in Hampshire then you are more likely than not to be caught.
That’s the message from a fire chief as statistics prove that the county has one of the highest conviction rates in the country.
The fire service has received praise for its success and representatives spoke about how they manage to secure convictions in more than half of all arson cases at the Local Government Association’s national fire conference.
Mick Crennell, assistant chief fire officer at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: ‘A lot of forces are doing similar things but we have a really good success rate which is fantastic for us.’
The latest available statistics show the national arrest rate average is nine per cent, whereas in Hampshire the arrest rate is 55 per cent.
The national average for convictions is just three per cent, and in Hampshire it is 68 per cent.
Mr Crennell said the reason for the county’s success was down to a dedicated arson task force, which works with a police officer to bring about convictions.
It also has fire investigators who give evidence as expert witnesses in court and it uses dogs to sniff out accelerants.
The fire service also has a team that gives talks to schools and groups about arson, and a team that visits prisons and works with offenders to educate them on the consequences of their actions.
Mr Crennell said: ‘There is a whole range of things and all that together has been really good for detecting and dealing with arson.
‘My message to people who are considering committing arson is that you will more than likely get caught.’
Councillor Roger Price, who is a member of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority for Hampshire County Council, praised the work of the fire service.
He said that 45 per cent of all fires attended by the fire service are started by arsonists.
Cllr Price said: ‘It is a very serious matter that needs to be dealt with.
‘The people who start fires need to be caught and punished. It often starts off with a waste bin or a bit of gorse and escalates to something else that can lead to death.
‘The fire service needs to look at why it has started and how the fire started and work with police to bring about a conviction.’
Cllr Price attended the LGA Conference and chaired meetings and workshops along with Neil Odin, deputy chief at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, so that other fire services could learn about Hampshire’s success.
He said: ‘There are lots of things that other fire services are doing and it was good to learn from one another and share best practice.’