Arson Prevention Forum

47% of all fires attended by fire and rescue services in England

are classed as deliberate

Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service now focuses its arson prevention efforts through the Home Office Ministerial Advisory Group on Anti Social Behaviour rather than through the Arson Prevention Forum. At the same time, positive discussions between the Chairman of the Forum and senior CPS colleagues continues and the CPS have suggested that their lead officer for arson meets with the National Police Chiefs Council lead on a regular basis in order to: 

  • Identify why so many cases were not prosecuted
  • Consider whether CPS could provide any guidance or assistance to the police to improve the number of referrals and prosecutions in arson cases
  • Share the CPS Arson guidance with the police, and consider contributing to the Police guidance 
  • Identify whether any data could be produced on the number of arson referrals to the CPS, which is at the moment unknown, and would provide a greater context to the available data.

This suggestion is felt to be extremely helpful and would allow a balance to be struck between use of limited resource is a focused manner to improve arson prevention and prosecution outcomes. The result of the meetings would be fed into the APF meetings for wider discussion. 

In terms of numbers, 2016 data shows 21,961 arson cases recorded by the Police (Source: Home Office figures outlined above) with 984 convictions (Sources: Ministry of Justice figures outlined above) excluding cautions or 1,242 convictions if cautions are included. This equates to 4.4% or 5.6% of arson cases recorded resulting in a prosecution respectively.

The CPS figures for 2015-16 confirm that there were 2,015 arson cases prosecuted which is a 2% rise on that in 201415. It can be seen that 9.17% of arson cases result in prosecution. Of those who are prosecuted, a high level of success is achieved but understanding why so few cases are proceeded against is key to this work moving forward. 

Some good research has been undertaken previously (Source: Research Bulletin no.1 March 2003 Arson: From Reporting to Conviction) but this is now 14 years old and much has changed in that time in terms of public policy. The APF does not have the resources to update this research unfortunately and will look to the CPS and Police to learn from progress made.  

By way of background, The CPS is the principal prosecuting authority for England and Wales, acting independently in criminal cases investigated by the police and others. 

The police duty to investigate incidents and present a file to the CPS is set out in the Director’s Guidance on Charging. The CPS duty to assess that evidence is also set out in that document.   The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the general principles Crown Prosecutors should follow when they make decisions.   The Full Code Test has two stages:  (i) the evidential stage; followed by (ii) the public interest stage.  

It is for the police to investigate what they record as arson, to gather evidence, and to present the same to the CPS for prosecution.  

The CPS have stated that “The CPS joined the Arson Prevention Forum during 2015.  On 24 September 2015, a CPS Policy Advisor delivered a presentation about the role and work of the CPS to the Forum.  The same Policy Advisor attended all meetings of the Forum up to September 2016, when the CPS gave notice that it would withdraw from the Forum.  The CPS decision to do so is based on the minimal role it has in relation to the arson prevention and detection agenda.  The CPS considers that the wider arson agenda is better served by its work with the Home Office Anti-social Behaviour Advisory Group.  This is where the CPS continues to demonstrate its commitment to bring prosecutions where appropriate.

The CPS has provided data about ‘offences charged’ where the ‘offence code’ identifies offences of Arson, including attempts and conspiracies, as charged under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971, section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 and section 1 of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.  The caveats explain the limitations of CPS data.  It is important to note that the number of offences charged should not be seen as indicative of the number of people prosecuted; a defendant may be charged with one or more offences”.

It is important that partners who have an interest or influence in reducing arson understand how they can assist the CPS increase the number of successful prosecutions as part of an overall strategy to reduce the crime of arson. Considering the test applied by the CPS may assist. As such, partners are encouraged to consider the following: 

How can evidence be better captured in a way which supports prosecution? E.g. Can the evidence be used in court? Is the evidence reliable? Is the evidence credible?

In terms of meeting the Public Interest stage - How serious is the offence committed? What is the level of culpability of the suspect? What are the circumstances of and the harm caused to the victim? Was the suspect under the age of 18 at the time of the offence? What is the impact on the community? Is prosecution a proportionate response? Do sources of information require protecting?