Reducing Nuisance Arson

The London borough of Tower Hamlets lies just east of London. Bordered on the south by the River Thames its 8 Square Miles is home to 250,000 people. It houses London's 'Mini Manhattan' Canary Wharf which is the premier Hi-Rise district in London and is without a doubt the second financial district in the UK outside of the city. Many of the riverside warehouses that 20 years ago were burning on a weekly basis are now multi-million pound penthouses.

In stark contrast to this, the centre and north of the borough is one of the poorest areas in Europe. There are 76 different languages spoken within the borough the vast majority of the residents are Bangladeshi Muslims. The 6 Fire Stations that cover the borough between them answer in the region of 16000 calls per year (non-medical)

The Problem

Photo Courtesy Steve Dudeney
Firefighters in SCBA tackle one of the hundreds of abandoned Vehicle fires in Tower Hamlets

In 2001 there were over 4500 arson related fires within the borough, this was the highest figure recorded for the UK. As with any run down inner city area a number of these incidents were serious structural arson fires, however the biggest problem was deliberately set rubbish & out door fires and deliberate ignition of abandoned motor vehicles.

As one of the Assistant Divisional Officers (Battalion Chiefs) for the area I was given the task of reducing these figures by my boss the borough commander (Deputy Chief). I studied similar arson problems around the world and realized the problem we were dealing with was nothing to do with serial arson caused by psychiatric problems or for financial gain, but simply juvenile fire raising caused by youths with nothing better to do with there time.

I visited many of the problem areas including one small area that had recorded 382 deliberate fires within the previous 12 Months. The overwhelming contributor to this was the high number of abandoned vehicles and the amount of rubbish dumped on the streets.

Due to recent European guidelines regarding the re-cycling of unwanted vehicles, older cars have become worthless and indeed costly to dispose of. Up to this point, anyone who had an old or broken down car could take it to the scrap yard or have it towed away and they would be paid between