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Services unite to combat arson

THE POLICE and fire service have joined forces to tackle arson in Cheshire.

THE POLICE and fire service have joined forces to tackle arson in Cheshire.

The county's chief fire officer Steve McQuirk and chief constable Nigel Burgess have signed a joint declaration in the battle to stop arsonists.

It formalises closer ties between the two emergency services when dealing with deliberately started fires.

Mr McGuirk said: 'Currently over 29% of our workload is recorded as arson or deliberate ignition.

'We have, over a number of years, developed a level of professionalism in relation to fire investigation.

'What has been missing is the mechanism to join our expertise with the police in the investigation of arson as a crime.'

Cheshire Fire Service was awarded £40,000 from the Government's Arson Control Forum for the initiative.

Now a detective, DC Luke McDonnell, has been seconded to fire brigade headquarters in Winsford to concentrate on targeting arson.

He will be working closely with fire brigade divisional officer Kevin Hughes.

Assistant chief constable Graeme Gerrard said: 'The constabulary and the fire service are working more closely together to address issues of common concern.

'Each year almost a thousand significant fires and around two-and-a-half thousand smaller fires involve suspected arson.

'The police are often unaware of these fires, particularly those involving rubbish bins, or fires on open ground.

'As a result, the crime has not been recorded or investigated. This picture has changed with the appointment of a police officer to the fire safety team. Armed with information from the fire service we will be able to investigate this type of crime more thoroughly.

'We will also be able to analyse arson reports and identify information that will help us arrest persistent offenders.'

Fire brigade divisional officer Kevin Hughes, who will be putting the new measures into operation with DC McDonnell, explained: 'Arson has always been classed as a serious problem by both organisations. Police and fire officers regularly co-operate on matters of arson, but we have never before worked this closely together.

'Arson is a big problem. A lot of deliberate fires are nuisance fires, such as grass fires, or in wheelie bins or skips.

'But then there are the more serious fires which wreck cars, properties or industrial premises.

'As well as the obvious problems they cause in terms of damage and threat to safety, there is the matter of wasting fire officers' time.

'Obviously if a call came in for a genuine fire while we were dealing with arson, that is at least one crew which couldn't immediately get to the real fire.

'This is an issue we will be taking up with other agencies, such as the borough councils, waste management and the education authority to work in partnership to beat arsonists.

'We are also planning to get out into local schools to raise the issue with youngsters.'

DC McDonnell added: 'Historically the two agencies have worked very well together.

'Now we are trying to take it a step further to identify best practices to make the community safer.

'We want the public to be vigilant and help us to stamp this out.

'This sort of thing can lead to the degeneration of an area. It might start off with graffiti, then when the culprits get away with that, they could move on to starting small fires and burnt out cars.'

Instances of arson have plagued Mid Cheshire in recent years. Burnt out stolen cars have regularly been dumped on land off Whitby's Lane in Winsford and DB's Nightclub, also in Winsford, was targeted by arsonists three times in as many months earlier this year.

Contact divisional officer Kevin Hughes or DC Luke McDonnell on Winsford 868430 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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