Arson – or ‘what you will’
The quotations that head this chapter illustrate the varieties of harm that the injudicious and illegal use of fire can cause. In the text that follows I shall occasionally use the term ‘arson’ for convenience as interpreted legally in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, but not in Scotland where the terms currently are ‘wilful fire-raising’ or ‘culpable and reckless fire-raising’. Various other terms are used in other classifications and jurisdictions such as ‘fire-setting’, ‘incendiarism’ and, clinically, ‘pyromania’ (or pathological fire-raising). See later discussion. For obvious reasons it is viewed as a very serious offence and in earlier times the death penalty could be imposed. Within fairly recent memory ‘arson in the Royal Dockyards’ was an offence so punished. Three reasons are advanced for treating
the offence very seriously. First, its detection, even by the use of the most modern forensic methods, can be extremely difficult. Second, it may involve numerous victims; sometimes these may be in addition to those originally targeted as the focus of the criminal act. Third, it can, as it were, be committed at ‘one remove’ by the offender. The following material is divided into the following parts. First, a very brief historical context. Second, a short description of the law in the UK. Third, brief statistics illustrating the size of the problem. Fourth, a discussion of characteristics and a classification of motives and management.