People found guilty of arson and criminal damage could face tougher sentences if their actions shut down a school or train station under proposed guidelines published today.

The Sentencing Council says arson and criminal damage offences can vary greatly in seriousness. Arson can range from a small fire set in a street litter bin to a carefully planned attack to endanger lives or destroy a building. Criminal damage can include graffiti, damage to public amenities such as trains and railway stations, or throwing stones at passing cars from a motorway bridge. The council says damage to a school, community centre or train station can have a 'real impact' on local communities, and economically harm neighbouring houses and businesses.

At present, magistrates' courts have some guidance for arson, criminal damage, and racially or religiously aggravated criminal damage offences, but there is no guidance for Crown courts. There are no guidelines for criminal damage/arson with intent to endanger life or reckless as to whether life is endangered, or for threats to destroy or damage property.

Sentences could be tougher for causing incidents requiring several emergency vehicles, leaving fewer to deal with other incidents. Offenders could spend longer behind bars if heritage assets are damaged, if the victim was particularly vulnerable, or if items of little financial but great personal value are destroyed.

Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro, Sentencing Council member, said: 'The guidelines we are proposing will help ensure consistency in the sentencing of these extremely varied offences. They can range from very minor damage to property up to an intent to endanger lives, and the guidelines set out an approach to sentencing that will help ensure appropriate sentences according to the seriousness of each offence.'

The consultation closes on 26 June.