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   Inside Out - North West: Monday November 1, 2004

EXPLOSIVE ENTERTAINMENT

Scene after a firework bomb went off
Firework bombs can cause deadly results

Industrial fireworks are meant to be used to wow the public during professional displays, run by professional handlers. But on Merseyside, criminal gangs have been turning them into bombs, with devastating results.

In the six months leading up to October 2004, devices attached to cars detonated outside three police stations in Liverpool.

Debris from one of the blasts flung over 100 metres, and it's the power of the explosives that is causing concern with police and residents.

Worrying trend

The availability of the fireworks has lead to attacks being spread beyond organised crime and onto the streets.

Chief Superintendent Paul Forrester
“Without being alarmist - it can't be allowed to continue”
Chief Superintendent Paul Forrester

Chief Superintendent Paul Forrester admits the use of firework bombs is becoming almost a regular occurrence around Liverpool.

"You'd be a lucky resident living in this area not to have seen some of the damage caused to street furniture such as phone boxes and post boxes.

"You'd only have to be walking past one of those places when the bomb goes off and you'd be seriously injured or even killed," he says.

Hitting back

In an attempt to tackle the car bombers, a new team has been created called the Firework Incident Research Safety Team (FIRST).

An unmarked four-wheel-drive tours the streets of Liverpool, carrying a forensic crime scene investigator and a pyrotechnics expert.

It is their job to crackdown on fireworks abuse.

Developed by Merseyside Police and Merseyside Fire and Rescue, the team have become the first "firework squad".

Chris Case and Constable Diane Rourke took on the positions on September 1, 2004, and now work full time on tackling the issues and causes of firework abuse.

Chris is certainly no stranger to fireworks; he used to work in the industry before he became a firefighter.

Diane Rourke
Diane Rourke is hopeful the FIRST project will be a success

And as a police officer, Diane has often seen the effects these firework bombs can have.

"Once you take away even the stick off a rocket and put it in a confined space it becomes an improvised explosive device," Diane warns.

You're probably used to hearing those terms used in relation to terrorists, rather than fireworks, but that's why the team are taking it so seriously.

"In some cases it can easily lead to a fatality, and we would deal with that as seriously as we would to a terrorist incident," says Diane.

Serious business

Far from being a fun novelty item to excite the public, fireworks used by these bombers are deadly.

Chris and Diane are called out to view a crumpled piece of burnt metal - which used to be a Vauxhall Corsa, until someone broke into it and detonated a firework.

Part of their role is to decipher what type of device was used, so they can accurately plot new trends.

The charred metal remains can hold clues for Chris and Diane as every contact leaves some sort of trace, so it's vital every piece of evidence is painstakingly collected.

Chris examining a bombed car
Even the smallest piece of evidence can lead to an arrest

"If it's a rocket type device you'll get a rocket motor starting off, which will give your source of ignition, then it will reach its main charge which will give you the blast," explains Chris.

The fire in the car reached around 1,500 degrees Celsius, which was enough to melt the glass windows, and enough to lull the bomber into a false sense of security.

"A lot of the times people think they have got off Scotfree… but as we recover more forensic evidence we can start to match it to offenders," warns Diane.

Action stations

It's 10pm and Chris has received a call reporting a firework under a car.

It's action stations as he makes his way to the scene, but this is not a rare incident around here.

Chris deals with, on average, five call outs every day.

As he arrives on the scene Chris finds that, luckily, there was little damage from the firework that had been jammed in a wheel arch and let off.

It's the sort of thing, in Chris's experience, that is usually carried out by kids. "This is more your prank attack," he says.

Dealing with calls to firework explosions is an important part of the FIRST team's job, but it's just as important that they try to keep ahead of the bombers.

Chris examining a car
Chris is committed to reducing the number of illegal firework explosions

A tip-off leads the team to an isolated building on the outskirts of Liverpool.

Inside lorry containers, Chris finds four tonnes of fireworks, the same strength as ones used in the recent attacks on police stations.

Amazingly, a loophole in the law says that these fireworks can be legally imported, but people must be licensed to store and sell them.

The owner of this building isn't licensed, which means it's a disaster waiting to happen.

"If there was a fire on this farm tonight, and firefighters, police officers and paramedics came down here, nobody would know there was four tonnes of fireworks in that container.

"There could be a catastrophic accident which would have terrible consequences, not only for the firefighters, but also for anyone who lives in the vicinity," Chris says.

Education

Rather than waiting until the fireworks are causing mayhem on the streets, a roadshow has been set up to educate children whilst they are still at school.

Youngsters are told the dangers associated with fireworks and encouraged to steer clear.

Recent law changes, that prohibit anyone under 18 to carry fireworks in public, are also helping police and firefighters trying to curb the problem.

"We've got young adults here who are all going to make a decision when they go out onto the streets," explains Chris.

"The decision is now - if you are going to play with fireworks there are consequences.

Chris Case
The FIRST team hopes parents will get involved in educating their children

"You are going to get caught and fined and you may possibly spend the night in a police cell.

"On the other hand you could be killed," he warns.

The idea behind the roadshows is that if young people understand the dangers and risks involved in using fireworks, they are more likely to make an informed decision to stay away.

But, part of the problem is the ease in which people can get their hands on the fireworks.

Supply and demand

Chris is empowered to enter any premises, without a search warrant, if he suspects fireworks are being stored dangerously.

The demand for party fireworks has been so high that many local shops have started stocking them, but not always safely.

On a routine "shop check" Chris spots something at a local corner shop.

"Straight away I am looking at fireworks being displayed in a window, and one of the items is illegal," he explains.

Chris confronts the shopkeeper and reminds him of his duty to safely store and supply any fireworks he wants to sell.

The shopkeeper has some very old stock in the shop, some items are over five years old, and Chris thinks it's a dangerous setup.

Confiscating fireworks
Thousands of fireworks are confiscated every year

After contacting Trading Standards, Chris decides to confiscate all the stock, none of which has any paperwork.

"You don't know what these things could do," says Chris as he removes the goods.

All seized fireworks are stored in secret depots around Merseyside.

In 2004, around 20 tonnes of fireworks have been taken off the streets already.

"If these things got in the wrong hands, they really do have the potential to cause a lot of injury and possibly death," Chris warns.

Once they have been stored, the fireworks are put to good use in the way were initially designed.

They are going to be used for a charity fireworks display on bonfire night, where professional handlers will ensure a safe and enjoyable display.

See also ...

Inside Out: North West
More great stories

On bbc.co.uk
BBC News - Police to tackle firework abuse
BBC Derby - Firework safety code

On the rest of the web
Merseyside Police - FIRST project
Fireworks Safety UK

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Dave Vernon
Firework sales should be monitored more stringantly,they should be for displays only.

David Vickers
Fireworks should not be sold to the general public. They can be enjoyed just as much at properly organised displays.

Chris Hayles
Seems as though they are just as loud as before the new laws. Not only are they a danger to humans but also to animals as well, already a report stated that a dog had one tied to its jaws. Should bann them straight away not say we will ban them as from 2006 or whatever!!

Ms Janice Richardson
OK, so it's the 5th November. So what? It's nearly 2005, isn't it time shops stopped selling fireworks? In the Alvaston area of Derby, yobs have been letting bangers off in the street since September. I thought only fireworks were let off at midnight for the milleneum but it seems to be every year now. Incidentally, what happened to the ban on noisy fireworks? Bangers since September, they'll go on into February at least. My cats are so frightened they live under the sink. I've also got a lot of studying to do - Open University and Derby College - study is impossible, and has been for many months.

adele mercer
i know it is traditional, but it seems to be in recent years, losing lives, damage to property injuries and distressed animals have become part of that tradition, we dont need so why do we still have them after all the damage thay have caused and will cause in the future? BAN THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Francis Conlan
All Fireworks should be banned permanantly as they are are a danger to ALL beings.



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