One in five people convicted of arson has some form of mental illness, according to new research from the Arson Prevention Bureau (APB).
Mental illness – ranging from depression to schizophrenia – may actually be responsible for a much higher percentage of crimes committed. Only a minority of offenders are ever brought to justice for the estimated 3,500 deliberate fires started in the UK each week.
The APB is calling for new measures to help tackle the problem including a national database of arsonists similar to the one used to track sex offenders; specialist help for the treatment of arsonists and more places in secure hospitals for serious and serial offenders.
With regard to arson amongst the mentally ill, suffering abuse as a child, relationship breakdown and attention-seeking are thought to be the key underlying causes.
"It's quite sad as quite often the perpetrators are as much victims as the victims themselves," said Malcolm Tarling of the ABI, which hosted a seminar on the topic last week.
A number of case studies were presented at the meeting including that of a 36-year-old man who set fire to a shop after discharging himself from a mental hospital. His marriage had broken down.
Other cases detailed how a woman who repeatedly started fires on trains and a male youth who targeted fire stations because he liked to watch firefighters tackle the blaze.