Heritage crime is any offence which harms the value of heritage assets and their settings. It covers a wide variety of activities that are responsible for damaging assets that are of particular historical interest and includes:
- Architectural Theft
- Planning Enforcement refusal, unauthorised development and excavation
- Public Urination (Anti-social Behaviour)
- Arson and Unauthorised fires
- Metal Theft and Unauthorised metal detecting
- Advertising / Fly posting
- Criminal Damage / Graffiti (Anti-social Behaviour)
- Vehicular damage.
Whilst heritage sites are not necessarily being targeted by criminals (with the exception of churches and monuments targeted for their lead and metal), most assets are being damaged by people who aren’t aware of the impact their behaviours or actions are having. Examples of this would be public urination, graffiti and fly posting.
Due to the very nature of heritage assets, putting right damage is costly to the public purse. For example, the recent rise in metal theft from ancient monuments is leading to repair bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“Heritage crime robs us of our history. Its effect on our lives is insidious and felt often too late. Beautiful buildings are scarred forever, places we treasure and enjoy lose their identity and appeal, evidence about our past is lost and tourism suffers, not to mention the burden on owners to repair and put things right. Society needs to work together to combat these criminal activities.”
- Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage
There are around 5,600 heritage assets across Cheshire including:
- Listed buildings
- Registered battlefields
- Registered parks and gardens
- Scheduled monuments
- Conservation areas
- Areas of archaeological importance
- Areas of archaeological potential
- Sites of archaeological/historic importance recorded on the Historic Environment Record (monument records).
In addition, there is a wide range of heritage assets that are not designated, but are familiar to us and valued by local people, for example, metal railings, village pumps, bollards, and sandstone walls.
All of these assets could be vulnerable to heritage crime and anti-social behaviour.
With the increase in heritage crime, it has never been more important for communities to play their part in tackling crime associated with these assets in order to preserve them for future generations. You can carry out a risk assessment for your heritage assets by downloading and completing the Heritage Sites Risk Assessment Form.
Heritage crime - the cost to communities
The cost to communities of heritage crime is enormous, not just in monetary value but in social costs. History fascinates people, and the damage being caused could deny future generations the opportunity to enjoy our heritage.
Our heritage assets also bring in tourists who spend money which in turn creates jobs for people in the local area. Many of the historic sites lie on agricultural land and if a crime is committed it can lead to the farmer losing income.
“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.”
- Mark Harrison, National Policing Advisor at English Heritage
Heritage assets are more vulnerable to heritage crime if:
- They’re unoccupied
- Windows/ doors are insecure
- The asset is secluded
- Crimes have occurred in the past
- Asset has a high metal content
- Domestic households are unaware of the laws about development
- The asset can be moved/ lifted.
Tackling Heritage Crime
Cheshire Police are involved in a number of multi-agency initiatives, working closely with local authorities, councils, the Crown Prosecution Service and English Heritage to reduce the amount of crime that damages our historic sites and buildings.
The Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH) is a new voluntary national network, spearheaded by English Heritage, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, is taking forward initiatives to galvanise local and national action against heritage crime. The overriding objective of the group is to reduce the amount of crime that causes damage to or interferes with the enjoyment of heritage assets in England.
There are currently more than 100 ARCH members, including a number from across Cheshire. Membership of the group is free and open to all organisations and groups that have an interest in preventing and enforcing heritage crime.
How you can help
- Know how rich in history your local area is
- Use the National Monuments List Register to find out what heritage assets exist in your community
- Become a Heritage Watch champion
- Start up a Heritage Watch group
- Share this information with other people who live in your local area
- Report anything suspicious relating to assets in your community that you are concerned about.
Reporting heritage crime
Local communities are urged to understand the heritage assets in their area that may be at risk of irreversible damage from crime and to report suspicious behaviours to their neighbourhood policing teams.
When reporting crimes of anti-social behaviour against a heritage asset, it would help us if you could:
- State the type of crime that has occurred/is occurring
- If known, state the type of asset that has been affected
- Name the asset, the asset's address and your contact details.
To report a heritage crime call 101, if it is an emergency, someone is in danger or the offender is nearby then call 999.
If you want to remain anonymous, report the incident to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.