Children risking their futures

Superintendent Glenn Gudgeon
Superintendent Glenn Gudgeon

MINDLESS youngsters who start fires risk their futures also going up in smoke.

That is the stark warning from Hartlepool Police’s District Commander, who is backing the Hartlepool Mail’s Stamp It Out campaign to rid the town of arsonists.

Superintendent Glenn Gudgeon said that not only do firestarters risk being sentenced to long stretches in prison, but they could be vilified and forced out of their communities.

He told the Mail: “In a town like Hartlepool where people are very close, that bin fire that spreads to a house and kills someone has huge ramifications across the community.

“The person responsible would not be able to live a normal life, they would struggle to get a job and their future would look very bleak.

“That is the reality of fire, it risks lives. People may think these little rubbish fires are harmless but they’re not, and they can lead to bigger fires as arson is an addiction.”

The Mail joined forces with the police, fire brigade and Hartlepool Borough Council to launch the Stamp It Out initiative.

Not only does arson risk lives, but it also costs the town’s taxpayers £2m last year to tackle the problem. The total cost of deliberate blazes last year across the Cleveland Fire Brigade area was almost £17m.

Brigade chiefs say two out of every three calls that firefighters are sent out on are down to deliberate fires.

Supt Gudgeon is hoping that those putting matches to everything from wheelie bins in Owton Manor to rubbish on Seaton Carew’s sand dunes think twice about the consequences of their actions.

He added: “People need to remember that they are starting these fires in the communities that they live, and the environment where their children will probably also grow up.

“You may be 14 or 15 now, but you may be spending the rest of your life here and nobody wants to live or be friends with an arsonist.

“You don’t see many people standing up in court and defending those who have taken someone’s life by doing something so stupid.”

Supt Gudgeon said a crackdown on firestarters has seen just one arson attack recorded in the last two weeks, with the average being around five a month.

Police have been patrolling fire hotspots, speaking to children thought to be involved in arson about the dangers and ramifications and arresting those they believe they can prove have been lighting fires.

Every arson incident is also thoroughly investigated by police and fire officers using specialist equipment that can find evidence among even the most charred of embers.