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Last Updated: Monday May 08 2006 13:00 GMT

Arson earned me a criminal record

A burned out car

Julie* set fire to a car on purpose and was charged with arson, burning herself in the process. She had to go to hospital to get treatment, which is where the police caught up with her.

As a result she now has a criminal record. Julie explained to Newsround Investigates how she got caught up in arson, and how it's affected her life since...

Are you surprised when you look back to the time when you were setting fires?
I'd done really bad stuff before, but setting fire to something just wasn't me. I know I was little bit drunk, and you can't use that as an excuse, but I was put under pressure. Because, I was totally besotted with this lad.

Did you think at the time you were doing anything wrong?
I didn't really know what was going on at the time, because he just grabbed me and took me out, and said "this has happened, this has happened," and then next thing I know we were at this car.

And it just happened so fast, but he left me to do it, he started it all and then he left me to do it, because he already had a criminal record, and he knew that he'd get sent down for it.

Did you think you were committing a serious crime?
No, I didn't really think about it. I didn't think I was committing any crime, because I didn't think I'd get caught, I mean, who does? I knew it was wrong, but, it's like the adrenaline, it's the rush. But, as soon as I got burnt I realised it wasn't a good thing, and it wasn't a laugh, and it wasn't funny.

If you hadn't got burnt and needed to go to hospital, how do you think you would have felt about it?
If I hadn't have got burnt or anything, I think I still would have felt really bad about what we did, because, it's still not in my character to do that type of thing.

I'm not an arsonist, it's not as if I get a buzz off it or anything.

So tell me, what was going through your head when you actually started the fire?
This thing wouldn't light that I was trying to light, so I stuck my hand in the car.

It hit me and absolutely exploded in my face. And it threw me back, it lifted me off the ground, you now, it totally threw me back.

It singed all my hair, burnt my face just a tiny little bit, I was shielding it with my hand, so I burnt my hands. I got out of it really luckily.

Since then you've been doing the courses with a fire team. What have you learnt about what can happen?
I've learnt to appreciate the fire service and stuff, because when you set a fire, you don't. You're not just affecting the victim, and yourself, you're affecting all the rescue services as well.

Because if they're coming to put your fire out, they could be somewhere else rescuing a family that is in a house fire. Yet they're putting your fire out because you set it, and that family could die because of this fire.

Has it helped you to get an idea of the consequences of arson?
Yeah, it's basically looking at the consequence of who it affects. You shouldn't just think about yourself, you should think about other people.

And what about the future? What kind of hopes have you got and how have they been affected by what's happened to you?
I did want to be a nurse, but I can't do that now because of my criminal record. I can't work with vulnerable people.

Maybe five years, down the line, I could turn around and say, "look I've done this, this and this, since then, can you give me a chance?" and it's up to them whether they want to, but as far as I'm concerned I'll never get back into working with kids, or people, or anything like that.

I'm hoping to start a college course soon. I don't know what doing yet, I haven't decided.

And are you scared of fire now?
I'm wary of it. I haven't really been that close to a fire since, so I couldn't really tell you.

So tell us what were you charged with eventually?
Eventually I was charged with arson, which was a six-month referral with a youth offender's team.

What was it like sitting there, thinking you might get a huge punishment?
I thought they were going to make an example of me, basically, because they'd sent my boyfriend to prison. Everyone said they were going to make an example of me, even though it was my first offence, but luckily they didn't, and I just got a six-month referral order.

How scared were you then?
I was quite scared, because going to prison is not the nicest of things, is it?

What consequences has this had on your life?
I wasn't at school at the time I was just working in a care home. I lost my job there, I was working with the elderly.

I lost a lot of friends. One of my best friends fell out with me over it all, I still haven't spoken to her to this day. I've seen her and said, "hiya" to her. We don't get on, like we used to.

Basically, my career, what I wanted to do, that's been affected, everything really.

Are there any lessons at all you've learned from this?
It has helped me and it hasn't helped me. It has helped me for the fact that I've found out who I am now. I was going off the rails. But, it hasn't helped me, for the fact I've now got a criminal record, and I can't work with vulnerable people.

I can't do what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a nurse, and I can't do that now because I've got a criminal record and everything. I would definitely go back and change it.

*Julie's name has been changed to protect her identity.

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