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Tougher restrictions needed on fireworks, say two of UK's top military charities

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Combat Stress and Help for Heroes have issued a joint call for tougher restrictions on the sale of fireworks in England and Wales. 

It follows a survey conducted by the military charities, which found that almost three-quarters of the veteran population back a tightening of the current legislation.  

74% of the veterans surveyed want to see the days and times when fireworks can be set off to be restricted further; whilst 67% want a reduction in the overall number of days fireworks can be sold to the public. 

The fireworks season can be a distressing time for many veterans. Sudden loud noises, unexpected flashes and the smell of fireworks and bonfires can bring back painful and traumatic memories of combat. Almost a quarter (23%) said fireworks have triggered a negative experience for them personally, ranging from feeling jumpy and hypervigilant through to panic attacks. 

Ex-RAF serviceman Matt Neve, who has been diagnosed with PTSD, generalised anxiety disorder and depression, all attributable to his service, said: “One of my main roles was the loading and unloading of those that had been injured or killed in order to repatriate them. Unfortunately, PTSD developed from this, a trigger of which is sudden loud noise, flashes of light or explosions, as well as certain smells. 

"So imagine what it's like when these are combined in a small package set off by your neighbour. You physically shake with fear, sweat, and become so agitated that you don't know what to do. Imagine what it's like to get out your car just as a firework is set off and you grab your daughter and dive to the ground for cover because you thought you were back in a war zone. Imagine how embarrassing it is to accidentally wet yourself in front of your family, because that young idiot down the road launches fireworks at or near your house, or to be scared to leave your house in the evening in the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night and New Year.

“All of the above is what happens and has happened to me. It's a reality of living with PTSD.”

Current legislation permits fireworks to be sold to the public from 15 October to 10 November each year - as well as around other annual festivals such as New Year - so veterans face a challenging month when private ‘backyard’ displays can be set off at any time; a month which also encompasses the lead-up to Armistice, when veterans, serving personnel and their families may be experiencing a period of grief related to fallen comrades.

Professor Catherine Kinane, Medical Director at Combat Stress, said: “We see a higher rate of distress in veterans accessing our mental health services at this time of year. The sound and unexpected bangs of fireworks can be reminders of frontline combat where they were exposed to the horrors of war in service to this country.

“That the majority of the veteran community wants to see tougher restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks is a clear indication of the scale of the problem. We want to see the Government commission this review and show consideration for the negative impact that fireworks can have on society, particularly those who are vulnerable.”

James Needham, CEO of Help for Heroes, said: “Many people look forward to Bonfire Night and it is a big event in the calendar, but not everyone enjoys it.

“Veterans tell us the sudden noises, flashes and smells caused by fireworks can leave them feeling nervous and fearful. Some can feel overwhelmed, others may be reminded of moments in combat and past traumatic events.

“That is why we are calling upon the Secretary of State for Business and Trade to commission an independent review of the current legislation, and to consider tighter restrictions on fireworks sales in England and Wales.”