So, two of the more controversial events in the calendar have passed for another year – Halloween and Bonfire Night.
They are of course controversial for very different reasons. Halloween, which was a week ago causes much discussion in the media due to the fears caused by trick or treating, more particularly with older young people throwing eggs, resulting in bans on the sale of eggs. For a number of years our area has operated a policy of trying to discourage teenagers from trick or treating at all, and this year publicised a zero tollerance policy towards egg throwing. According to our local paper, Police attended five incidents of trick or treaters throwing eggs, and one of a pensioner throwing an egg at trick or treaters! This perhaps indicates that high profile stories result in a percieved fear is a lot worse than the actual occurences.
The controversy over Bonfire Night is very different, and after the events this weekend in Northamptonshire focusing much more on safety. For many years campaigners have been encouraging people to attend big displays, but as events this weekend show, even the most professional of these still can have accidents. Indeed a friend at work attended a local display where people in the crowd were hit by stray fireworks, despite the crowd being kept the required distance from the display. Having said that the number of injuries at private parties is still significantly more, with the 2004 figures making grim reading, with 590 of the 1160 injuries occuring at home or private parties compared to 161 at public displays. Even more worrying is that 368 of the 1160 injuries were to those under 13. However it is worth noting that the second largest group of accidents is 317 injuries in the street, from firework misuse such as this recent case in Wales.
So, do I think that next year will be any different? Somehow I doubt it. Halloween is still fairly minor compared to North America, however many areas of the country are, like our area, trying the twin approach of encouraging Halloween parties whilst operating a zero tollerance policy towards troublemakers. Certainly the perception of trouble seems to be worse.
As to Bonfire Night, the actual reason for the celebration, marking the thwarting of an attempt to blow up the British Parliament has largely been forgotten. However the present day British Parliament has recently backed a tightening of the rules, however with every case such as the 11 year old in Wales there are calls for a total ban on sales to the general public. Perhaps it is slightly inconsistent that in a country like the UK with some of the tightest gun laws, and many other strong health and safety related laws, and despite the selection of accidents from this year any adult member of the general public can still purchase fireworks.