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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November 2003, 12:15 GMT
Why Bonfire Night is going out with a bang
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online Magazine

Some rockets will be banned from sale
This year's bonfire night will be the last before tough new restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks come into effect.

From next year, devices louder than 120 decibels - roughly the same volume as a jet aircraft taking off - will be banned from sale.

And anyone caught letting off fireworks in a public place after 11pm could be arrested and fined.

Other measures are expected to include:

  • Restricting the sale of fireworks to a three week period ahead of 5 November and a short period over New Year
  • Licensing retailers who sell fireworks - and allowing local authorities to refuse or revoke such licences
  • Compulsory training for firework display operators
  • Making the possession of fireworks by under 18s a criminal offence

The government is expected shortly to outlaw "air bombs", roman candle-style tubes that send a single loud explosion into the air and which are currently subject to a voluntary ban by the industry.

Pocket money fireworks

Other nuisance fireworks such as bangers, "jumping jacks" and certain small rockets, which could be thrown at people, have been banned from sale in 1997.

The waste of police time is criminal - why don't we just change the law to deprive criminals and young thugs of their availability?
Norman Bettison, chief constable of Merseyside Police
"This latest move on air bombs - some of which sell for as cheaply as four for 99p - is taking pocket money fireworks out of the equation. And that is a good thing," John Bush, of retailer Millennium Fireworks, said.

"Most of the abuse of fireworks has been coming from the cheaper end of the market."

Sparklers, which accounted for 135 injuries last year, will still be available. Variety packs for home displays will still be sold - but without air bombs and certain rockets.

Harmless tradition?

For many people, the new measures - enshrined in the Fireworks Act - are long overdue.

The tradition of letting off fireworks on 5 November to commemorate Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 has long since ceased to be a harmless tradition.

Vandalism involving fireworks has escalated in recent years, with more reports of fireworks being pushed through letter boxes or thrown at children and animals.

More serious criminals have also cottoned on to the potential of fireworks as a terror weapon.

In Merseyside in recent months 28 telephone boxes and seven cars have been blown up using firework gunpowder.

I can see no justification for selling fireworks to the public, and they should be restricted to organised and licensed displays.
Tom, England

In Liverpool city centre earlier this year, a car bomb outside a nightclub and a nail bomb thrown into a pub were both found to contain firework parts.

Total ban

Four years ago, neo-Nazi nail bomber David Copeland used gunpowder from fireworks to build the bomb he detonated in the Admiral Duncan pub in London's Soho and the blasts he set off in Brixton and Brick Lane.

Meanwhile, councils around the country receive thousands of complaints and more than 1,000 people are injured by fireworks annually.

The upsurge in fireworks-related crime has led some senior police officers to call for a total ban on the sale of fireworks.

Illegal fireworks

The British Fireworks Association, which represents fireworks retailers, favours stricter laws but argues against a total ban.

Fireworks can cause terrible injuries
It claims banning the sale of fireworks altogether would drive them underground - a view endorsed by the government.

But it is not yet clear how far the new laws will go towards preventing the alarming growth in the sale of illegal fireworks in the UK.

It is estimated that more than 2,000 tonnes of fireworks were sold illegally in the UK last year, many of them imported from east Asia.

Rockets the size of footballs and air bombs sold as "a 64-shot Saddam Hussein's dream come true" are being sold on the black market.

John Woodhead, chairman of the British Fireworks Association, has described the sale of illegal fireworks as "a problem on an epidemic scale - I have never seen anything like it".

The biggest ever haul found in Britain was uncovered last month in Cardiff, where police seized a 60 tonne cache of illegal fireworks.

But there have also been large-scale seizures in Northampton, where 2.5 tonnes were discovered at a single house, and Northern Ireland.

Criminal gangs, with links to Irish loyalist paramilitary groups and the Real IRA, are reported to be behind the growth in illegal fireworks.

The BBC's Richard Bilton
"There is a wide body of support for change"



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