Firesetters with intellectual disabilities in Denmark

Søren Holst, Dorte Lystrup, John L. Taylor*


Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review

1 Citationer (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to gather epidemiologicalinformation concerning firesetters with
intellectual disabilities (ID) in Denmark to identify the assessment and treatment needs of this population and
inform further research in this area.
Design/methodology/approach – The records held by the Danish Ministry of Justice concerning all
firesetters with ID convicted of deliberate firesetting were reviewed for the period January 2001 to December
2010 inclusive. File information was extracted for 83 offenders concerning: demographic and personal
characteristics; mental health characteristics; offending behaviour; offence-specific factors; and motives for
offending. A sub-group of seven offenders were interviewed to explore some of the themes that emerged
from the file review.
Findings – The majority of study participants were male and were classified as having mild ID and around 50
per cent had additional mental health problems. Many came from disturbed and deprived backgrounds.
Two-thirds had set more than one fire and over 60 per cent had convictions for offences other than firesetting.
Alcohol was involved in the firesetting behaviour in a significant proportion of cases (25 per cent). The motives
for setting fires were – in descending order – communication (of anger, frustration and distress), fire
fascination and vandalism. Interviews with participants indicated the important communicative function of
firesetting, the difficulties people had in talking about and acknowledging their firesetting behaviour, and lack
of access to targeted interventions.
Research limitations/implications – Interventions for Danish firesetters with ID, as for firesetters with ID
elsewhere, need to target the communicative function of this behaviour, along with offenders’ lack of insight
and initial reluctance to accept responsibility for their behaviour and associated risks. Adjunctive treatment is
required to address the psychiatric comorbidity experienced by many of these offenders, along with the
alcohol use/misuse that is associated with many of these offences.
Originality/value – This is the first study concerning nature and needs of firesetters with ID in Denmark.
Keywords Denmark, Motives, Disabilities, Intellectual, Co-morbidity, Firesetters
Paper type Research paper
TidsskriftJournal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour
Sider (fra-til)72 - 81
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - 28 nov. 2019


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