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