In a speech to the House of Lords, Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage, spoke about the devastating impact heritage crime has on communities, and made an impassioned plea for the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners to take these crimes seriously and ensure activities to tackle them are embedded within existing practices at a local level.
Speaking in support of the second reading of the Scrap Metal Dealer's Bill on 30 November, Baroness Andrews said: "Heritage crime is not just a financial crime where profits and insurance companies suffer the only loss, although there is often a very significant financial cost as well. This is crime that erases history, threatens the viability of churches, defiles the memory of our war heroes and melts away our great art and artefacts.
"The bill is therefore a public service and we welcome it. It will provide a proper regulatory framework which will identify the decent traders and protect them - and will make it much more difficult for the rogue thief to function."
Baroness Andrews went on to say; "Legitimising and regulating lawful scrap metal dealing will certainly help reduce the temptation to steal, but to make much needed further inroads into the problem, we need to increase general vigilance, use the best preventative measures…and execute law enforcement in a way that properly reflects the value to society of the sites that have been damaged.
"The Bill is a significant step forward and I am cheering it on heartily. But I would also ask the Government, local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners in particular to complete the task and ensure heritage crime prevention is embedded in all their relevant law enforcement activities.
"We are very pleased that Chief Constable Andrew Bliss of Hertfordshire Police has agreed to be the Association of Chief Police Officers' national lead for heritage crime. I know it is his view that this is a matter of real importance and one that can be tackled very well within existing resources and patterns of working at a local level. I will shortly be writing to all Police and Crime Commissioners to bring these issues to their attention."
English Heritage's own research shows that around 6% of all listed buildings were harmed by metal theft last year. That is around 22,000 of our nationally important historic buildings suffering damage every year from metal theft alone.
Churches and war memorials are the worst hit. According to the research 14% of churches suffered metal theft in 2011. Ecclesiastical Insurance says it has received some 9,000 claims from churches for metal theft in the last four years alone, at a cost of over £25m. Claims on their policies reached a new high of 2,500 in 2011.
English Heritage has received a very positive response from the police, local authorities, the Church of England and other partners that it has engaged in its heritage crime programme. Representatives from more than 150 organisations are now members of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH), a voluntary national network that is being used to take forward the initiatives and galvanise local action.
Mike Harlow, Governance and Legal Director of English Heritage, said: "Combating heritage crime will be a perennial task, but it is already bearing fruit. We have worked with Lincolnshire police, for example, in bringing to justice a gang who have admitted stealing lead from 22 churches across the county - a case which shows the industrial and organised scale of the threat, as well as the benefits of conservation and law enforcement professionals working together."
New Set of Guidance
English Heritage has just published a new set of guidance documents to help the public and police prevent and tackle heritage crime more effectively:
- Heritage Crime Prevention: A Guide for Owners, Tenants and Managers of Heritage Assets
- Preventative Measures: Quick Assessment Tools
- Heritage Crime Impact Statements
- Interventions: Prosecutions and alternative disposals
Find out more about the heritage crime prevention programme and download these guidance documents at www.english-heritage.org.uk/heritagecrime.