Successful rehabilitation programme for firesetters to expand across county

A rehabilitation programme for people convicted with an arson offence in the north of Cambridgeshire is set to expand to the rest of the county a year after it was first introduced.

The Icarus Programme was devised specifically for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) by forensic psychologist Dr Jennifer Marshall and is the first programme of its kind in the UK.

Dr Marshall devised the pioneering programme based on her experience working with individuals who have an index offence of arson at the Rampton Mental Health Institute. Instead of group therapy sessions the programme allows those convicted of arson to work with staff from the fire service on a one-to-one basis.

The programme was introduced to CFRS in 2014 when community safety officers went in to Peterborough Prison to work with arson offenders. Icarus was then expanded to work alongside the probation service in the Peterborough area in June last year (2016) and as a result of its success, the programme is now expanding across Cambridgeshire.

Icarus, described as a ‘therapeutic’ programme, works with offenders over several months and covers six different modules such as fire setting behaviour, patterns and cycles, problem solving and social skills, self-esteem and understanding and managing emotions.

Since its launch, working in collaboration with the probation service, Icarus has seen three individuals, with an index offence of arson, go through its books. They include one participant who has, to date, broken a lifetime pattern of reoffending.

The man, in his 50s, was made the subject of a 92-month custodial sentence for an offence of Arson with Intent to Endanger Life. Prior to his arrest in 2012, the man had a long history of convictions, with 34 previous convictions dating back to 1970. However, since completing the programme he has not reoffended since leaving prison - for the first time in his adult life.

Statistics from the Home Office puts the cost of Arson to the economy in England and Wales at approximately £2.2 billion a year, with research revealing that offenders often have a history of ‘psycho social disadvantage’ which includes experiences of childhood trauma, social skills deficits and difficulties with expressing, and regulating, their emotions.

A significant number of offenders suffer from some form of mental health issue, with other things like low self-esteem and lack of confidence coming into play.

Wendy Coleman, Head of Safeguarding at CFRS, said staff will monitor each of the three clients at a point six, 12 and 18 months after completion of the course. However, she said the course had already proved successful with the first participant having avoided reoffending for the first time in his adult life; the second reporting a boost in confidence and the third participant identifying the triggers around his offending.

“The benefits of helping people like this are if we can work with these people to change their behaviour and enhance their life skills we will prevent them from setting fires in Cambridgeshire in the future, endangering the community and firefighters, and thereby reducing our fire calls.”

All of the community safety officers, and a member of the combined fire control, who work on Icarus have volunteered to take part in the course.

Wendy added: “I am very proud of the officers involved in the project because it is a voluntary programme for them to be involved with and they have done some superb work helping these people to be better members of society and to be more socially responsible.”

Mark Swain, Senior Probation Officer for Peterborough and Fenland, said: “There is a severe lack of provision around working with offenders with fire-setting behaviour.

We have seen the dangers fires can cause to communities so if we can reduce the risk of that happening again through programmes like Icarus, it is more than worthwhile.

“We have already completed a programme review with one client saying he has not committed any further offences since completing the programme and there is evidence of him picking up and using some of the skills he gained from the programme in other areas of his life too. The tools and insights given to people using Icarus are still there even after they have completed the course.”