For more than 100 years and through a succession of statutory measures, Parliament has recognised the need to protect Englandâ€™s irreplaceable stock of historic sites and buildings, and more recently its shipwrecks and military remains. The most important purpose of the legislation is to prevent unauthorised alteration or destruction of heritage assets, but another is to protect them from criminal damage or theft.
So what exactly do we mean by heritage crime? As far as English Heritage is concerned, it is â€˜any offence that harms the value of Englandâ€™s heritage assets and their settings to this and future generationsâ€™. What has until recently been less clear, is the role of the different enforcement agencies, local authorities, the police, English Heritage and the Crown Prosecution Service â€“ in tackling that crime. Alongside a lack of expertise and inadequate understanding of the nature of the loss and harm that is being caused, this has meant that the task has not been fulï¬lled to its full potential.
Picture courtesy of English Heritage
In March 2010, English Heritage and the police service, through the auspices of the Association of Chief Police Ofï¬cers (ACPO), recognised the need for a more coordinated approach to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour within the historic environment. As a contribution to English Heritageâ€™s new Heritage Crime Programme, I was seconded as a Chief Inspector from Kent Police to act as Policing and Crime Advisor and to devise a framework for a sustainable and coordinated approach to reducing heritage crime and anti-social behaviour.
A scoping exercise was then undertaken to determine the level of support for the development of a partnership model and a shared national deï¬nition of â€˜heritage crimeâ€™. Discussions with appropriate enforcement agencies, professional heritage bodies and community groups showed broad support for a partnership model built around ï¬ve objectives:
â€¢ Identiï¬cation of the risks to assets and their settings
â€¢ Prevention of crime
â€¢ Capability of delivery within existing resources and structures, in particular existing Neighbourhood Policing and Community Safety Partnerships
â€¢ Capacity to grow its coverage and effectiveness over time
To underpin the willingness to collaborate at both a strategic and local level, the Police Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, English Heritage and Canterbury City Council and Dover District Council endorsed a formal memorandum of understanding in February 2011.
In a parallel initiative, an Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH) was formed to harness the enthusiasm of the wider heritage community and to galvanise action to tackle heritage crime at a local level. Members of ARCH include the National Trust, the Church of England, Crimestoppers, the Ministry of Defence, English National Parks, the Woodland Trust and the Historic Houses Association, as well as a wide range of archaeological and historical societies.
The National Intelligence Model requires all UK police forces to carry out an annual Strategic Assessment of the scale, extent and location of crime and anti-social behaviour and make recommendations about future policing and partnership strategy and tactics. The ï¬rst strategic assessment for the historic environment was published by Kent Police in November 2010 and recommended the following priorities in relation to the historic environment:
â€¢ Criminal damage
â€¢ Unlawful excavation and removal of articles
â€¢ Architectural theft including metal theft
â€¢ Unauthorised works and alterations to listed buildings.
The second assessment was conducted on behalf of English Heritage by Newcastle University, Loughborough University and the Council for British Archaeology in October 2011. It found that about 75,000 crimes affected protected buildings and sites every year â€“ an average of 200 incidents a day. It also showed that the biggest single threat is metal theft and the most threatened type of building is a church.