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Arson and criminal damage

Published on:

3 July 2019

Today we have published new sentencing guidelines for arson and criminal damage offences that will see the courts take full account of the harm caused by offences such as arson attacks on historic buildings or criminal damage leading to severe disruption of public services. 

The new guidelines introduce guidance for both magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court hearing arson and criminal damage cases and will ensure that they take account of:

  • the full impact of arson or criminal damage such as vandalism on national heritage assets including listed buildings, historic objects or unique parts of national heritage and history;
  • the economic or social impact of damaging public amenities and services such as a fire at a school or community centre, or criminal damage at a train station, which can adversely affect local communities or cause economic hardship to neighbouring houses or businesses; and
  • the effect on communities when an area’s emergency services or resources are diverted to deal with an incident of criminal activity.

The guidelines, which come into effect on 1 October 2019, will help to ensure that sentencing by judges and magistrates will be consistent across the whole range of these offences. Limited guidance exists in magistrates’ courts, but the new guidelines apply to all courts. They cover the following offences:

  • Arson – criminal damage by fire
  • Criminal damage / arson with intent to endanger life or being reckless as to whether life endangered
  • Criminal damage where the damage has a value exceeding £5,000
  • Criminal damage where the damage has a value not exceeding £5,000
  • Racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage
  • Threats to destroy or damage property

The guidelines acknowledge that harm can involve not only physical injury but long-term psychological effects, and that damage to property can be about more than just its financial value.

Judges and magistrates will also consider requesting reports to ascertain both whether the offence is linked to a mental disorder or learning disability in order to assess culpability, and whether any mental health disposal should be considered.

Sentencing Council member Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro QC said:

“The Council’s guidelines ensure that courts can consider all the consequences of arson and criminal damage offences, from a treasured family photo being destroyed to someone nearly losing their life and home in a calculated and vengeful arson attack.”

A press notice is available from here.