Saturday, 25 June 2011

Tackling Heritage Crime

You might expect a seminar about heritage crime, held at 5PM on a Friday evening, to be a a bit of a drab affair with a relatively low turn out. However, the event I attended last night in Manchester had an attendance of 50 or so supporters of our historic built environment and the speakers were equally as passionate.

The speakers were Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, Policing Advisor to English Heritage, Paul Murphy, Chair of Greater Manchester Police Authority and Ian Marshall of Specialist Environmental Services at Cheshire West and Chester Council.

The focus was to raise awareness of English Heritage's Heritage Crime Initiative backed by the recently published National Heritage Protection Plan. Heritage Crime is defined as "any crime or behaviour that harms the value of England's heritage assets", those assets being listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, military remains, conservation areas, world heritage sites, registered parks and gardens and registered battlefields, though only the first four of those are currently enforceable by law. Currently the task given to the authorities in policing heritage crime is unclear and there is a lack of awareness; crime's against our heritage are not recorded as such, theft is recorded as theft even where it is the theft of lead from a church roof, vandalism is recorded as vandalism even where it is graffiti to a scheduled monument.

The objective of the NHPP is to raise awareness nationally of the importance of protecting our heritage and the irreparable damage caused by crimes such as theft, illicit metal-detecting, arson and unauthorised adaption or demolition of protected assets. In order to tackle the problem of heritage crime a co-ordinated sustainable effort is required using a common approach and a common terminology. In this respect English Heritage have formed the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH), a voluntary national network aimed at tackling heritage crime, it's free and all those working with heritage assets are encouraged to register.

The Police, English Heritage, the Local Authorities and Crown Prosecution Service aim to work with their community partners, Police Community Support Officers, Archaeology teams, neighbourhood watch schemes, dioceses and local parishes to identify heritage crime problems and hotspots and ensure they are properly reported and recorded. All those with an interest in our heritage are encouraged to get involved and to write off to their own LAa, Civic Societies and community groups to get them on board. Heritage crime prevention is in it's early stages and there is much to do, it will take time but with a co-ordinated effort it can be tackled. Dealing with heritage crime doesn't necessarily require additional effort, it can be integrated in to normal working activities, "part of the day job".

There is already evidence of increasing awareness of the value of our heritage; recently when sentencing Adam Blythe for graffiti to some of York's historic landmarks, judge Roger Elsey told Blythe "Given the worldwide significance of the historic sites you damaged with graffiti, I am satisfied the offences were so serious only a custodial sentence is appropriate".  Mark Harrison said he hadn't written those words for the judge, but those are the exact words he would have used if he had written them! There is also an increased use of the word 'heritage' in the media.

One growing problem is that of metal theft from historic buildings such as churches. Many insurance companies now won't insure against metal theft unless it is Smartwater protected whilst others claim they will only insure against 'risk' and not certainty; metal theft being considered a certainty and not a risk! As an example of being pro-active and in the interest of collecting heritage crime data, Chester Diocese sent an email to each of its Parishes to ask for them to record all heritage crimes that had occurred in the past 5 years. Only with this type of data available can adequate prevention measures be put in place and, as mentioned above, crimes against heritage assets are not currently recorded as such.

Increased awareness. Common terminology. Co-ordinated effort. Better recording. More research. Development of best practice guidance for preventative measures. Protection of heritage assets is in the early stages of development and all who are involved with, or interested in, our built heritage are encouraged to get involved and do what they can.

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