A SENIOR crime investigator has talked to The Cornishman about a police investigation into a series of arson attacks by a teenage girl who put dozens of lives and livelihoods at risk by starting fires in Penzance.
In November 2010 the crime investigation department (CID) at Penzance became acutely aware of a string of graffiti incidents on town centre business premises.
The following year the police started investigating a series of arson attacks on commercial wheelie bins and unsecured cars.
The two type of attacks were soon linked to teenager Holly Jehu, now aged 19, who has been detained under the Mental Health Act after pleading guilty to five counts of arson earlier this year.
Sergeant David Page has talked about the investigation and how her offending escalated from minor criminal damage to serious arson attacks which had the potential of putting dozens of lives at risk.
"We became initially concerned because some of the plastics were causing some significant fires and the fire service told us we were not too far from losing a building.
"A lot of people live above commercial premises in Penzance and we were especially concerned for the 50 residents living above the Wharfside Shopping Centre in case one of the fires spread and took hold of the whole building. And this is where the anxiety started to build up."
Between March and December 2011 the police dealt with up to 65 cases of arson in Penzance town centre.
Some of them included attacks on unsecured cars, an attempted arson attack on Penzance Register Office and she also tried to burn down a carpet shop at Jennings Street.
"We were told by the fire service that we were lucky not to lose the whole (carpet shop) building," Sergeant Page said.
Jehu was eventually arrested and was sent into custody in December 2011.
Following her release in summer 2012 a significant amount of work by partner agencies was put in place to distract her from crime and to reintegrate her back into the community.
She was assisted with housing when she relocated to Lanner in Redruth, the youth offending team helped to enrol Jehu with the Jamie Oliver Fifteen project in Watergate Bay and she also started a catering course at Cornwall College.
However, within months the force became aware of an attempted arson attack on the family building at Trengweath Day Centre in Redruth and Jehu was arrested.
"She was seen pouring lighter fluid through the letterbox at the hospital and she has been on remand ever since," Sergeant Page continued.
"Unfortunately, it got to a stage where every agency felt exhausted and disappointed that they were not able to help her.
"From the policing point of view we take no satisfaction from the fact that Holly is in prison because we would have loved to see all the help having a positive impact on her."
Sergeant Page said the force spent hundreds of man hours costing thousands of pounds in operations that eventually led to Jehu's latest detention.
He said that at Penzance station alone every single officer from the 70-strong team was involved in the case at some stage. In addition the fire service visited almost every single business in the town centre carrying out fire prevention work and offering crime prevention advice.
"This case was unique.
"I have never dealt with anything like this before.
"We had this classic escalation of offending from graffiti to bin fires and then from car fires to buildings like the hospital.
"I think we were lucky that one of the fires didn't get out of control and seriously hurt someone."