Teesside branded arson capital of the UK as figures reveal £130million cost of deliberate fires
Teesside has been branded the arson capital of the UK – and the crime could have cost as much as £130million last year.
That was the shock figure unveiled by Cleveland Fire Brigade’s Steve Johnson as a fresh strategy to deal with the problem kicks into gear in the coming months – including the possibility of deploying drones at arson hotspots.
Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton, and Redcar and Cleveland had the highest rate of fires in the UK last year with 64 deliberate fires per 10,000 population in 2018/19.
Hartlepool saw the fewest deliberate fires recorded in 2018/19, with 627. Middlesbrough was the highest with 1,172.
Redcar and Cleveland saw 1,056 and Stockton 801.
A presentation by Mr Johnson estimated the potential cost of the 3,656 fires last year was between £68.8million to £137.7million on Teesside last year.
He said: “The severity of the scale of arson in the whole of the UK works out at between £5.7billion and £11.5billion.
“To put that into context, the BBC reported last month that the cocaine market on the streets cost £6billion – so we’ve got a potential problem in the UK twice as bad as the cocaine value on the street.
“Yet communities have become tolerant of it and it’s a blight.”
Grass, vehicle and rubbish fires make up the bulk of arson cases on Teesside.
Mr Johnson helped write the national arson strategy and told the latest Safer Stockton Partnership how the brigade was trying to stop anti-social behaviour at a low level.
He added: “What we’re trying to get into is stopping it turning into serious and organised crime.”
Mr Johnson said cases of arson were “on track to go up” but work was being done to try and nip it in the bud by working together with other agencies.
“This is not a fire service problem – we can’t deal with this on our own,” he added.
An arson conference is due to be held with the brigade’s four councils and other agencies in November of December.
And Mr Johnson told the panel the brigade was looking at the joint purchase of drones to tackle arson hotspots.
He added: “We’re here to help each other out – it’s not a single agency issue and it’s part of an entrenched anti-social behaviour culture we see out there.
“We need your support in combating this.
“Why? because we want to stop people getting up that crime ladder into more serious and organised crime and reduce that economic cost.”
There were brighter spots within Mr Johnson’s report.
He told panellists vehicle fires were falling year on year on Teesside and a local arson strategy would be coming shortly.
Last month, Cleveland’s chief fire officer Ian Hayton wrote to six Teesside MPs to warn the brigade was “fast approaching its professional bottom line” in 2020/21.
He urged them to ask the government for a “fairer distribution of funding” after years of cutbacks.