In November 2012, the â€˜Totemâ€™ tree which inspired Hockneyâ€™s Winter Timber artwork was felled and daubed with graffiti in an act of vandalism. The tree featured on the recently established Hockney Trail, and was a boost to local tourism. No action has been taken because the tree was on private, rather than council-owned, land.
In 2011, a one-off bronze statue of a Second World War soldier was stolen from a war memorial in Wiltshire. CCTV footage showed that the removal took two thieves 40 minutes, yet they were not interrupted.
In July 2012, a Henry Moore sculpture valued at Â£500,000 was stolen from his foundation in Hertfordshire. The sculpture was recovered after a televised appeal â€“ the scrap dealer had no idea of the worth of the artwork, and paid just Â£46 for the sculpture.
Picture courtesy of English Heritage
Such anecdotes illustrate some of the varied nature and cost of heritage crime. If they are anything to go by, the problem has increased in recent years. Some increased heritage crime is the inadvertent by-product of progress and market forces. Near ubiquitous car ownership of recent decades means that more people (including thieves and vandals) can gain easy access to sites with near-priceless and irreplaceable antiquity. Alongside this, the rising price of many metals in recent years means that theft of pipes, roof slates and other such items has become increasingly attractive.
The nature of heritage crime varies widely. â€˜Heritage crimeâ€™ is a portmanteau term covering everything from theft of the crown jewels to littering at monuments. It includes, amongst other crimes, theft of valuable statues, lead theft, graffiti or anti-social behaviour at heritage assets, art theft and looting of artefacts. The term is not generally considered to include cultural changes (for example the degradation of spoken history within indigenous tribes) or crimes which do not directly impact the historic fabric (e.g. a laptop stolen from inside a listed building would not be classed as a heritage crime). Nor does it include controversial changes to heritage assets which fall within the boundary of the law, such as the conversion of historic buildings to hotel or business premises, despite the intense feeling this may promote.
Blackpoolâ€™s miniature village was targeted by thieves in 2011. Handcrafted lead roofs were torn from the buildings for their scrap value. Owners commented that theft was common, with many miniature figures seemingly walking off siteâ€¦
The damage to the national wellbeing and public purse caused by heritage crime is currently immeasurable, though that is at least in part due to the paucity of decent data on the subject. Readers may be surprised to learn that we know relatively little about the nature and extent of heritage crime or its prevention.
The highly varied nature of heritage crime means that responses will need to be similarly varied. If there is one thing we know from the last few decades of crime prevention research, it is that there is no silver bullet. There are, however, multiple bronze bullets that can succeed if appropriately tailored and focused. Heritage sites vary greatly in nature from the houses of country estates, to local churches, from scheduled monuments and archaeological digs, to seemingly secure museums and galleries containing a wide range of treasures. â€˜What worksâ€™ in crime prevention tends to be efforts that are tailored to specific crime types, locations and problems. So preventing theft of lead roofs will require different tactics to preventing graffiti at monuments. Preventing different types of theft, or the same types of theft at different places, can require distinct, tailored, tactics. This may sound overwhelming but the unifying notion is the problem-solving approach which is well established in crime prevention and policing research and practice.