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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Soaring cost of school arson
fire-damaged comprehensive school
Arson destroys hard work as well as buildings
The soaring cost of arson attacks in schools in the UK could reach the equivalent of 85 new school buildings or 3,000 teachers' jobs by the end of the year, insurance figures indicate.

Who does it
47% of those found guilty of arson are aged 15-19
65% of those cautioned for arson are aged 10-14

In recent years there have been on average three arson attacks on schools every day.

Most of the culprits are teenagers - often high on drink or drugs - from problem families in deprived inner-city areas.

To try to reverse the trend a new scheme is to be piloted, aimed at raising awareness of the issue among schoolchildren.

Why they do it
Reaction against social order
Jealous rage

The Arson Prevention Bureau and public sector insurer Zurich Municipal have published figures showing that the average cost of arson has averaged 43m over the last 10 years - but reached 45m in the first five months of 2000 alone.

They estimate that if current trends continue, this year's total cost could reach a record 85m.

To help tackle the problem Zurich Municipal is sponsoring a bureau pilot project in Nottingham which includes a specially commissioned play, targeted at teenagers to show the consequences of an arsonist's actions to themselves and to others.

There will be follow-up workshops and teaching materials for Nottingham schools.

These mindless attacks cost millions of pounds that could be better spent building and equipping new schools or employing more teachers

Arson expert Larry Stokes

Zurich Municipal's Larry Stokes, who also chairs the bureau's arson in schools working group, said: "Hundreds of schools are hit by arson attacks each year causing massive disruption to the education of thousands of children and often destroying years of hard work by teachers and pupils alike to build successful schools.

"These mindless attacks cost millions of pounds that could be better spent building and equipping new schools or employing more teachers.

National programme

"When the risk of loss of life and the human costs of lost work, disruption to education and the effect on communities of major fires are taken into account the cost is far greater."

The chief executive of the Arson Prevention Bureau, Chris Mounsey, said: "The key to tackling the problem lies in the multi-agency approach, through raising awareness of the issue and developing best practice guidelines."

Nottingham was chosen for the pilot study because the city council and county fire and police services all had "a visionary outlook" on prevention.

Nottingham's director of education, Paul Roberts, said: "We hope that the results of this pilot can be used to develop a tried and tested arson prevention programme that can be integrated into the school curriculum across the country."

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See also:

23 Jun 00 | UK
That burning passion
02 Apr 00 | Education
Boys in court over school blaze
02 Jun 00 | Wales
School destroyed by fire
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