ARSON has reached such high levels in Hartlepool that university boffins have been drafted in to work with fire-starters to stamp out the problem.
Cleveland Fire Brigade has identified the town’s fire-starting hot-spots – with Summerhill, Tunstall Court, Brierton Quarry, Park View Industrial Estate and Jutland Road, Grayfields and Old Cemetery Road – being the worst.
Last year fire crews were called out to 195 deliberately started blazes in these areas – which accounts for 74 per cent of the total annual figure of 264 arson-related fires.
April was the worst month, with 46 incidents recorded, and that equates to more than one deliberately-started fire every day. That is compared to March which saw 18 cases of arson, and May which recorded 32.
In a bid to understand what motivates fire-starters, the brigade has commissioned Teesside University’s Centre for Realist Criminology to carry out research into what causes young people to become involved in such crime.
Researchers will interview people aged between nine and 21 who live in areas heavily affected by fire, attempting to gain a greater understanding of the causes.
Steve Hall, professor of criminology at Teesside University and director of Teesside Centre for Realist Criminology, will lead the research project, along with research associate Rob Crow.
Professor Hall said: “Fire-setting may sound trivial to some, but it is still incredibly dangerous and takes away valuable time and resources from the fire brigade.
“Every time Cleveland Fire Brigade is called out to deal with an incident of fire-setting, it is putting people’s lives at risk.
“We need to clarify and get a clear understanding of the causes so that the brigade can enhance its intervention strategies.
“The reasons could be environmental as Cleveland has a lot of derelict areas, cultural, something that young people do for acceptance, socio-economic, most incidents take place in deprived areas, or psychological – people have a fascination with fire.
“We will be interviewing young people and talking to focus groups to pinpoint areas of interest and find out why deliberate fire-setting is so rife in this area.”
Phil Lancaster, the brigade’s director of community protection, said: “We have made excellent progress over the last decade in reducing the damage that deliberate fire-setting causes our communities, working alongside our partners including the police and local authorities.
“We are committed to continuing this progress and are delighted to have engaged the knowledge and expertise of Teesside University to help us to understand what motivates the people who start fires deliberately in Cleveland, so that we can ensure that our arson reduction activities continue to be relevant and effective.”
The research project was launched earlier this year with a full report due in July.
Table for total deliberate fires by ward in Hartlepool in 2013:
Manor House 54
Headland and Harbour 44
Rural West 37
De Bruce 25
Burn Valley 10
Fens and Rossmere 7
Foggy Furze 6