New tactic to cut arson

Efforts to crack down on fire-starters will be stepped up in the New Year with the appointment of Norfolk's first arson reduction officer.

Efforts to crack down on fire-starters will be stepped up in the New Year with the appointment of Norfolk's first arson reduction officer.

The new Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service post, which will be based at Thetford, could be used as a model for other stations in the county if it proves a success.

The south Norfolk market town was chosen as the pilot for the scheme following a high number of callouts and a history of problems with arson.

Former Norfolk Police crime prevention officer Dave Farrow will begin the full-time post next month and will work closely with local organisations and groups to try and prevent illegal fire-lighting.

Andy Heginbotham, Thetford fire station manager, said the town had been highlighted as having a “high ratio” of arson-related incidents in the past, from litter and wheelie bin fires to major property blazes.

“We do have quite a major issue in regard to arson-related crime and it is related to criminal damage issues around Thetford,” he said.

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“But if we work together with the police and other partners in the community, we can make a difference. We can now target known offenders and work with them rather than chasing them around.”

“It is a long term project rather than a quick fix, but the idea is to drive this into the community and encourage a collective community ownership and it is a preventative measure rather than a reactive measure.

“It could be rolled out county-wide if it proves successful,” he said.

Mr Heginbotham added that it was “part and parcel” of the job to deal with fires involving derelict properties and abandoned vehicles within Thetford's estates and the forest.

A Norfolk County Council report published last year blamed bored youngsters for 353 fires that were deliberately started in Thetford over a period of four years.

In 2003, the Kwik Save supermarket in Minstergate, which is now a Somerfield store, was destroyed by an arson attack.

Other recent incidents have involved the boarded-up Anchor Hotel, in Bridge Street, and a youth shelter on the Barnham Cross estate.