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Arson or a Deliberate Fire?


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I am having discussions at the moment why our 'arson' figures do not resemble the figures held by the police.  I have explained that for us, the FRS, to record a fire as deliberate the burden of proof is on the balance of probability and that an IC needs only be 51% sure of the cause.

Arson however is a crime and to be convicted or accused of arson the burden of proof is beyond any reasonable doubt.  So, police will only record arson when there exists no doubt.  As an FI for example I will only provide a statement/report for a deliberate fire if I am in no doubt as I need to assume I will be stood in a witness box potentially. 

As a result, I believe the nuisance fires we record as deliberate are being re-recorded by the police as perhaps criminal damage for example.


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Noddy..i had the same issue when I was  borough commander - as the police were not required to report on these, and as such they didnt record them as a crime, so our figures just didn't tally  ( mainly fires in the open) they also didn't have the capacity to attend on many occasions.I insisted they recorded them, any such incidents were recorded in the multi agency environment and meetings as this was the only way I could get the councillors to recognise the problem for a multi agency deterrent.

I now believe the reporting criteria has since changed. 

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Whilst i understand that the Police and CPS have to forfill certain evidential tests to proceed as a prosecution, in my experience the Police are keen to ' no crime ' everything they can to keep the crime stats down.

This is particularly so for serious crimes such as arson or where finding those responsible may prove difficult or expensive 

I had an argument with a Met Inspector who claimed a definite arson was spontaneous combustion. He knew it was bullshit and he knew I was aware he was spinning the truth.

If this is repeated across the UK, arson may well go under reported 

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In GMFRS I have to either inform the Police or request them dependant upon the nature of the deliberate fire. However, with the Police being stretched, I know full well that at a deliberate car fire for example I will not get an attendance and therefore inform Police of a possible deliberate ignition This varies dependant upon the location of the vehicle. I'm interested to see how this is recorded to be honest as I am guessing that a verbal passing of information may well be recorded differently than when the Police actually attend. 

In terms of arson, we have our own FI Team, although a lot of it goes down to me at the first level of FI. If FI do attend and we know the incident type where they should, I am sure that will be recorded accordingly. As the old saying goes, "There and lies, more lies and then there are statistics" ;)

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Arson is an offence under the Criminal Damage Act and should be included in the crime statistics as such. However, these statistics (like all statistics) can present different conclusions depending on the dataset used, the argument they are being used to support or the political pressure to reduce these figures. 

This makes crime statistics difficult to correlate; with Police (Home Office) recorded crime and the results of the Crime Survey for England and Wales often significantly different. For the latest figures have a look Here

To me it is no surprise that figures from the Fire Service and Police do not match. Many Fire Authorities have set targets for the reduction of deliberate fires and Police forces are under constant pressure to reduce crime without the proper resources to do so. This, in my opinion, leads to some deliberate and cynical massaging of the figures. 

A couple of other factors to bear in mind are that the Fire Service only responds to around 10-20% of fires ( according to statistics ;) ) and when we do the OiC is required to make a judgement on it's likely cause based on the balance of probabilities. Just because it has been recorded as a deliberate fire it does not necessarily mean it is arson which is for the Police to determine.

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Chris, we're talking semantics here. Our initial FI determines that the fire has been caused by deliberate ignition. As in all cases where there is suspicion of a crime(ie Arson) duty of investigation then becomes that of the Police. We can assist & advise, but since the scene becomes a crime scene, it's theirs. However in this day when it's rare for burglaries to be attended, if the police choose not to attend because of personnel issues, that's their issue unless it's a blatant arson, in which case insistence of the OiC for a police attendance should be paramount. And I agree, that even if it's determined as a definite arson, finding the culprit(s) may well be a different matter entirely. Having been in the witness dock for a deliberate ignition (under impaired judgement due to drug & mental health issues), which the attending police units and subsequently the CPS determined worthy of an Arson with intent case, that got thrown out by the jury, I totally accept that deliberate doesn't = arson.

Different kettle of fish, which statistics are the 10-20% fire attendance figures from? That one surprises me, and I'm curious to see which fires aren't included to generate that figure...

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I agree it is semantics, arson means different things to different people and that is what makes comparing figures so difficult. 

The 10-20% of fires I referred to is a gross simplification of data produced in several statistical surveys such as the British Crime Survey, the Survey of English Housing (now English Housing Survey) and reports like Fires in the Home: findings from the 2004/05 Survey of English Housing.

For example:

Table 3.4: Proportion of fires to which the fire and rescue service were called by where the domestic fire started, 2004/05







Lounge or dining room


Elsewhere in house


Total inside the house


Total outside the house


Overall % of fires attended


Source: 2004/05 SEH (weighted data). Covers England

Clearly this data is several years old and doesn't include information about fires attended (or not) outside of the home. However, the latest figures (which can be found here ) give a more positive picture with the incidence rate of fire in the home being broadly static from the 2004/5 figures (1.7 per hundred households) but the attendance of the Fire Service increasing to around 40% (with the Fire Service extinguishing 28% of domestic fires).

All of this is a long winded way of saying we must not try to compare apples with oranges. Unless the same methodology, sampling and statistical modelling is used it is impossible to directly compare the data from one organisation to another.

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Exactly that Chris, it's probably impossible to quantify exactly how many fires self extinguish, are extinguished by the occupier, happen and never get reported to anyone . In some ways it's another of those statistics like 'oh the FRS only attend 20% of all fires' rather than 'the frs attend 99.99% of all fires reported to them' , justifying further reductions in funding. But I digress....9_9

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