WILTSHIRE has broken new ground in partnership working between emergency services, with the re-launch of the innovative Bobby Van, which first took to the road six years ago.

Set up by the then Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Sir Maurice Johnston, to combat the continued persecution of the elderly and vulnerable of the county by a increasingly heartless criminals, the Bobby Van teams now endeavour to save lives from fire as well as trauma from crime.

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford was in Devizes last week, not only to launch the county's third Bobby Van, but also to recognise that Wiltshire Fire Brigade has joined Wiltshire Constabulary in backing the Bobby Van teams with knowledge and expertise.

Robert Hiscox, chairman of the Bobby Van Trust that operates the independent service, told the assembled guests at the launch ceremony at the fire brigade training centre in Devizes how Mr Raynsford had first become involved with the trust.

He said: "I was at a Government dinner in London a few years ago, when I saw a piece of card had fallen over a tea light a small candle and had started to smoulder.

"I quickly rescued it and said to the man standing next to me, you have no idea how many fires start that way.

"He said, oh I do. I replied, how can you, you're just a Government minister. Yes, he said, but I'm Minister for Fire."

Mr Raynsford said he had been happy to arrange £70,000 funding for the third van through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

He said that the Bobby Van targeted a vulnerable sector of society.

He said: "People over 65 are five times more likely to die in a fire than those in the 30 to 50 age bracket. Too many people will continue to die unless they are protected from the danger of fire."

The Wiltshire Bobby Van Trust, which numbers the Prince of Wales' companion Camilla Parker-Bowles as one of its patrons, is an independent body that relies on financial support from local government and the community at large. It needs £200,000 to cover its running costs.

Originally the Bobby Vans were set up to visit elderly victims of crime to increase security at their homes, particularly with spy-holes and door chains.

Now the Bobby Van teams will advise on fire safety, suggesting that too many electrical devices plugged into the one socket is not a good idea and making sure that smoke alarms are fitted and working.