A dangerous game

PUBLISHED: 13:10 22 February 2007 | UPDATED: 13:51 04 May 2010

Players from StopWatch take their hard-hitting arson message to schoolchildren

Players from StopWatch take their hard-hitting arson message to schoolchildren

EVERY year about 3,000 people are injured and 100 killed in fires started deliberately. Of the 814 arsonists convicted in 2004, 60 per cent were under the age of 18 and 32 per cent under the age of 15. Now a leading theatre company is teaching youngsters

EVERY year about 3,000 people are injured and 100 killed in fires started deliberately. Of the 814 arsonists convicted in 2004, 60 per cent were under the age of 18 and 32 per cent under the age of 15. Now a leading theatre company is teaching youngsters about the dangers of playing with fire.

LESLEY INNES looks at the work being done in our schools to protect people from a devastating crime which costs society more than £1.3 billion a year.

SCHOOLCHILDREN are getting a tough lesson on the dangers of playing with fire.

The hard-hitting message is being delivered by a theatre company to schools throughout East Cambridgeshire.

Arson About is being performed by StopWatch, one of the UK's leading education theatre companies to Year eight students.

Although the thought-provoking play is delivered in a fun and interactive way, it aims to deliver a serious message to prevent arson attacks which claim lives and damage

property.

Every week 20 schools in the UK are targeted by arsonists, resulting in about 1,000 schools per year being damaged in deliberate fires.

The play focuses on a typical arson incident - but one that ends in tragedy.

StopWatch has teamed up with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service to take the play to 24 schools throughout the county.

Officers from the service's arson task force, community fire safety and arson liaison officers, local community police officers and police community support officers will take part in the school visits.

Witchford Village College youngsters have already seen the play and it will be performed at Soham Village College on February 28, King's School on March 1 and Ely Community College on March 2.

"The play delivers some hard-hitting messages in a fun and interactive way for the students and we hope it will make young people think twice before setting fire to something, be it the contents of a bin, fencing, cars or anything else," said Mike Fowler from the arson task force.

"We are trying to get across that what young people can think of as a bit of fun can end in tragedy and have serious consequences. It can be surprising just how quickly a fire can spread and get out of control and it also prevents fire-fighters attending other emergencies."

Cambridgeshire police officer Neil Windsor, who is seconded to the arson task force, said: "Over the last three years in Cambridgeshire there has been a steady drop in the number of arson-related fires in total, especially with regard to deliberate fires to homes, businesses and vehicles.

"The number of small deliberate fires such as bin and refuse fires has increased significantly in some parts. Young people are often responsible for these types of fires.

"The StopWatch theatre project is a valuable way of helping to reduce arson-related fires and delivers messages in such a way that they will hopefully stay with the young audience for many years. It was extremely successful last year and more schools across the county have signed up this year."

The treat of arson

ARSON remains a major threat in England and Wales. In the past decade there have been about 2.3 million deliberate fires, resulting in 900 deaths and 25,000 injuries.

It can be defined as the wilful or deliberate setting fire to another's house, car or similar property.

Arson is the largest single cause of major fires in the UK and, at its worst, leads to loss of life and significant financial damage.

In some areas, arson now accounts for 70 per cent of all fires, rising to 82 per cent in

certain localities.

In an average week in England communities suffer more than 1,600 serious fires, 50 injuries, two deaths and a cost to society of more than £45 million.

Over the course of a year arson costs the English economy an estimated £1.3 billion.

Each year in England schools suffer 1,200 recorded fires, 60 per cent of which have been deliberately started and a third happens in school hours.

Arson carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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