chapter  44
6 Pages

Fire Setting (arson) and Criminal Damage

WithGeoffrey L. Dickens, Philip Sugarman

Arson continues to pose significant problems for UK communities despite a 10-year downward trend in its frequency. In 2008 a total of 53,000 deliberate serious fires were recorded, resulting in 93 fatalities and in excess of 2,000 nonfatal casualties.1 Deliberate fire setting costs society billions in damages and related economic expense and, in Australia and North America, bushfire arson has  an additional devastating environmental impact. Juveniles are overrepresented among apprehended fire setters, but  around half of all individuals arrested for arson are adults.2 The issue is of relevance to readers because about 10% of admissions to forensic psychiatric services have committed arson,3 and psychiatrists are therefore required to assess and manage the risk posed by arsonists in the form of dangerous recidivism. To inform appropriate disposal, the courts require the forensic practitioner to comment on the intentions of the fire setter and to determine the role, if any, of mental disorder. This chapter provides an overview of the law relating to arson, its prevalence, and its etiology. The sociodemographic, developmental, and psychopathological characteristics of arsonists and other deliberate fire setters are described. The limited current evidence about intervention is outlined, and the key information required to make an assessment of dangerous fire-related recidivism is presented.