The criminal careers of arsonists

Med Sci Law. 2004 Jan;44(1):27-40. doi: 10.1258/rsmmsl.44.1.27.


This paper replicates a 1973 study of the criminal careers of arsonists (Soothill and Pope, 1973). It compares the original series of those convicted at the high court of arson in England and Wales in 1951 (n=74) with three new series of all those convicted in any court in England and Wales in 1963-5 (n=1352), in 1980-1 (n=5584) and in 2000-1 (n=3335). The profile of convicted arsonists has significantly shifted over the years, with an increasing proportion of females and a rise in the average age of both males and females. Previous convictions for violence and criminal damage (including arson) are much more evident in the later series. The proportion of medical disposals has declined, while the 1:2 ratio for custodial/non-custodial sentences has remained constant. With a 20-year follow-up the proportion reconvicted for arson has more than doubled--from 4.5% in the 1951 series to 10.7% for the 1980-1 series. The indications are that the situation in relation to arson has deteriorated significantly over the past forty years.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data*
  • Criminal Psychology* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • England
  • Female
  • Firesetting Behavior / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Wales