Church fire2Arsonists in Hampshire have been handed sentences of more than 500 years after being brought to book by some of the best fire investigators in the country.

The Arson Task Force, and its fire investigation team, has also just notched the 200th conviction in its 10-year history during which time it has looked into more than 2,000 blazes and determined that more than 1,300 were deliberate.

The latest figures show investigations by the team, headed by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Station Manager Damian Watts, have led to 474 years in prison, 32 years worth of community service orders handed out and 38 years worth of supervision orders being imposed.

Some of those arrested were cautioned or sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

A small number of cases are also later dropped for a variety of reasons.

However, there was a 70 percent conviction rate for the cases where suspects were charged.

There are several ground-breaking approaches being pioneered by the Hampshire team which contribute to this impressive conversion rate.

Arson Task Force and Fire Investigation Station Manager Watts said: “The Hampshire team is special because we are given a high level of support from the service. 

"Having dedicated fire investigation officers mean our skills and specialities are not diluted.

“The unique work we do pushes the boundaries of previous fire investigation methods and some of the research we are now doing could have wide reaching applications.

“We are also extremely lucky to have established a great relationship with Hampshire Constabulary and we have a police officer who works from the same office as us.

“The enthusiasm, dedication and energy of the team is inspirational.”

He added that his team members are constantly building on their knowledge and increasing their level of expertise.

Station Manager Watts has obtained a teaching qualification and is working on his masters degree.

He said he believes amazing results can be achieved by blending vast first-hand experience and expertise with pioneering research and academia.

In a UK first Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the University of Portsmouth.

Members of the Arson Task Force will lecture at the university and take on students for industrial gap years as well as 12-week placements.

Projects include work on fire patterning and fire scene contamination.

The team of acclaimed experts are also helping to shape international legislation and safety regulations regarding flammable products.

The group are behind ground-breaking rehabilitation and prevention techniques which they have developed through continuous study and collaborating with world renowned authorities.

They have worked with more than 100 adult fire setters in a unique educational course and seen no repeat offenders.

The Arson Task Force also share skills and give advice to the police and military and have championed a restorative justice project.

Station Manager Watts has been commissioned, as part of his research, to submit three articles to scientific journals on the impact of toxic chemicals on firefighters’ safety.

The team are also working with Becky Milne, who put together a pioneering project on the psychology of the police force, on similar work to improve evidence-gathering and interviewing techniques as part of its continued desire to be the best.