How Serious is Arson?
Arson is a very serious crime, carrying a maximum penalty of a whole-life prison term.
While many arsonists are thought to be bored young people looking for a distraction (and potentially not thinking through the consequences of their actions), committing arson can have ramifications for the rest of the offenders’ lives.
Because committing arson is such a serious crime, it remains on criminal records for life and can prevent ex-offenders from travelling abroad. In the short term, young people under the age of 18 can expect strict supervision orders for deliberately starting fires in which no-one dies, and additionally paying victims’ compensation costs. Those over the age of 18 can generally expect a custodial sentence for committing arson.
How to Prevent Arson
While no-one should ever blame another person for being the victim of crime, there are a couple of sensible precautions householders can take to deter would-be arsonists. One tip is to make sure that wheelie bins are kept as far away from the property as possible, and preferably locked up, especially on nights when the fire service is very busy (Halloween and Bonfire Night are two such nights, although incidences of arson actually increase during the lighter months of the year too). Another tip is to use a motion-activated security light, which could potentially deter theives as well as arsonists, who seek to hide their identities and commit crimes later in the day.
Young People and Arson
Young people are disproportionately affected by arson. In 2006, the BBC estimated that there were 3 incidences of arson in schools across the UK every day. While police and teachers do their best to educate young people on the danger posed by “pranks”, it’s worth talking to any children or young people in your life about the dangers to life and property posed by irresponsible behaviour. Cambridgeshire Police tell the sobering tale of two young boys aged 14 and 16 who set fire to a toilet roll in a bin in 2011. Doubtless the boys didn’t intend to cause extensive damage, but the fire they deliberately started spread to a shop and local houses, and burned two cars. The boys ended up with 4 years of supervision by the courts, and blighted prospects for the future.
Judges take incidents of arson much more seriously if homes or public buildings (such as schools) are attacked, and also if the crime is pre-planned or motivated by a desire for revenge. Whether arsonists intentionally endanger lives, or recklessly endanger them by being careless is also taken into consideration by judges, but crimes in which fuel or other accelerants are used are usually punished more harshly. Of course, any deliberate fire could take an innocent life, and potentially cause thousands of pounds’ worth of damage. Arson is always taken extremely seriously in court.