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Case Studies

Heritage crime survey

Metal theft is the biggest single threat to England’s historic buildings and sites, according to a survey for English Heritage. The quango estimates that: some 70,000 listed buildings – nearly one fifth (18.7pc) of the entire stock of listed buildings in England – were last year physically harmed by crime.


For some 30,000 listed buildings – or 8pc of the entire stock – the damage was substantial. Churches and other religious buildings face the greatest threat with 37.5 per cent (three in eight) damaged by crime last year. Anti-social behaviour around heritage assets is commonplace; and the single most common heritage crime facing scheduled monuments. Heritage Minister John Penrose said: “This survey makes for depressing reading. When historic buildings and sites fall victim to vandalism, damage and theft, it’s not just the owner who suffers. Very often the thing that’s been stolen or damaged is literally irreplaceable, and the whole community is the loser.” Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “The figures are alarming, particularly for our churches. Whilst heritage assets are not necessarily being targeted over other places, save perhaps for their valuable materials and artefacts, they are suffering a substantial rate of attrition from crime nonetheless. Damage done to a listed building or an archaeological site can often not be put right and centuries of history will be lost forever. These places have an obviously high value to society. Their particular vulnerability warrants every effort to ensure they are still around for future generations to enjoy just as much as we enjoy them now.”

English Heritage has been running a heritage crime programme for two years. Some 100 organisations are members of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH), a voluntary national network. A memorandum of understanding between English Heritage, the police and Crown Prosecution Service was signed last year. A former Kent chief inspector, Mark Harrison, is National Policing Advisor at English Heritage.

In the last two years English Heritage has assisted in over 150 cases and also introduced heritage impact statements to help judges and juries understand the true impact of heritage crime.

English Heritage is producing guidance documents which will shortly include a guide to preventative measures. The full research is available on the English Heritage website:

Local history societies, amenity groups, neighbourhood watch and residents’ association are all being encouraged to be more vigilant of criminal damage to historic sites and buildings in their area and report any suspicious activities to the police.

Cheshire West and Chester Council is among the first authorities to respond and integrate heritage crime reduction activities through the existing framework of its Community Safety Partnership and wider community work.

Cllr Hilarie McNae, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Heritage Champion, said: “Heritage crime is seriously affecting the conservation of our ancient buildings and monuments, and as the caretakers of thousands of years of history we have a responsibility to do everything we can to stop it. By working with our partners including the Police, we are delivering a co-ordinated approach to ensure our heritage assets are cherished, valued and protected for future generations.”

Mark Harrison, National Policing Advisor at English Heritage, said: “Many communities realise that heritage crimes do not only damage buildings but also the quality of life in their area. We hope that more community networks will be established with the skills, understanding and information to make a real difference.”


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