Lancaster University

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Arson Figures Soar

03/24/2004 14:25:57

Recorded incidents of arson have rocketed over the last 40 years but convictions are not keeping pace, according to a new report by Lancaster University academics.

After comparing official figures documenting arson complaints and convictions over the last four decades researchers discovered a remarkable increase in the number of recorded offences – rising from 1,129 in 1963 to 52,818 in 2000/01.

While about a quarter of this increase is associated with the introduction of new methods of recording crime since 1998, numbers of incidents of arson recorded by the police have still risen nearly 40 fold in less than forty years.

The report said, despite the spiralling number of recorded arson attacks, the number of convictions for the offence had increased less dramatically - from around 450 in 1963 to around 3,600 in 1984 - and since then the figure has tailed off to around 2,000 convictions each year.

The study, ‘The Criminal Careers of Arsonists’ by Professor of Social Research Keith Soothill, Research Associate Elizabeth Ackerley and Professor Brian Francis also showed that while the majority of convicted arsonists still tended to be men, more women were being convicted of the offence than in the past. In 1951, one in every 25 convicted arsonists was female, whereas in 2000/2001 the figure was around one in seven.

The authors state: “The higher proportion of females suggests either a definite behaviour change (more women committing arson) or that the criminal justice process is more willing to pursue charges and convict against females.”

Other findings of the report, due to be published in the academic journal Medicine, Science and the Law, included:

L The average age of those convicted of arson has steadily risen since the 1960s, and is now 24.

L The proportion of arsonists receiving a custodial sentence has remained constant at around 30 per cent since 1963.

L Around 10 per cent of arsonists convicted in 1980 and 1981 were reconvicted within the next 20 years of a subsequent arson offence - it made little difference whether the arsonist received a custodial sentence or not.