Arson: a growing inferno

Med Sci Law. 2006 Oct;46(4):295-300. doi: 10.1258/rsmmsl.46.4.295.


In a series of 34 arsonists, our survey compares the changing trends in arson to an earlier study carried out ten years ago in the same region in the UK by Rix (1994). The survey is based on pre-trial court reports done by the second author only. Fire-setting offending was predominantly seen in the young male (18-32). Fire-setting started as early as age seven and was seen as late as 63 years of age. More than half of the subjects received some form of family support. At least one third had an ICD-10 (WHO, 1992) diagnosable mental disorder and more than half were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder during the time of reporting. A third of the subjects had a personality disorder diagnosis prior to reporting and another third had disordered personality traits established during the time of reporting. More than half had a psychological motive. Eleven per cent started a fire for excitement with only one for revenge. A third of the subjects were first time arsonists. Sixty-five per cent of arson involved building damage and all the 34 subjects were under the influence of alcohol prior to and during the act of arson. Additionally, there was cannabis use in nearly half of the subjects. Opioids and poly substance abuse were seen in a third of subjects. With the extent of financial and social burden along with risks, attention should be focused on accessing these individuals early to preventing recidivism. More research needs to be undertaken to identify the psychological motives behind fire-setting and to look into the drugs and alcohol problems amongst the younger age groups.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / diagnosis
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Firesetting Behavior / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • United Kingdom