English Heritage Calls on Communities to Help Tackle Heritage Crime

Crimes and anti-social behaviour that damage England's historic environment will for the first time be tackled in a much more coordinated way through a new initiative launched by English Heritage today (11th February 2011).

Under the strategic guidance of English Heritage, the Police (through the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), a nationwide network is developing among enforcement bodies, local authorities, non-governmental organisations, professional groups and amenity societies to systematically tackle and reduce offences such as architectural theft, including metal theft, criminal damage, illegal metal detecting, graffiti, vehicle nuisance and arson.

Remains of Roman settlement were damaged by off road vehicles in Easton Grey, WiltshireRemains of Roman settlement were damaged by off road vehicles in Easton Grey, Wiltshire Representatives from more than 40 organisations, ranging from The National Trust, The Church of England, Crime Stoppers and Ministry of Defence to National Parks, The Woodland Trust and The Historic Houses Association will be meeting for the first time on 11th February to discuss the formation of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH). ARCH is a voluntary national network that will be used to take forward the initiatives and galvanise local action.


A memorandum of understanding to delineate responsibilities between the three strategic partners - English Heritage, ACPO and CPS - will be signed at the event. Local authorities will be encouraged to join the coordinated effort, with Canterbury City Council being the first authority also to have agreed to sign the memorandum.

Local history societies, amenity groups, neighbourhood watch and residents associations will be encouraged to raise awareness of the risk of criminal damage to historic sites and buildings in their area.

Tackling Heritage Crime

The model of Neighbourhood Policing, established to tackle the crime and day-to-day anti-social behaviours most affecting local neighbourhoods, provides a useful model for tackling heritage crimes. 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.

The profile and accountability of heritage crimes among police officers will also increase. For the first time, there will be a national lead in ACPO on heritage crimes and there will also be a dedicated portfolio holder in many police forces across the country.

Neighbourhood Policing and community involvement is expected to contribute considerably to improved intelligence and data on the ground, both of which are lacking at present.

Extent of Heritage Crime

The true extent of heritage crime is difficult to ascertain due to the way in which it is recorded and the fact it tends to be under-reported by victims. This initiative seeks to address the reluctance to report such crimes by increasing public awareness and placing the emphasis on a coordinated effort. 

The 2009 English Heritage study of illegal metal detecting suggested that the problem is growing and reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Metal theft from churches is also a serious issue, with the number of insurance claims in 2010 being twenty times as many as that in 2005.

In 2010 the first national assessment was conducted looking at existing information and disparate data that various organisations were able to supply, including: English Heritage's Heritage At Risk Register; live known cases; geographical information on the spread and concentration of heritage assets; the 2009 study on illegal metal detecting; and, church metal theft data. This identified that arson, architectural theft (including metal theft), removal of artefacts from protected sites and vehicle nuisance pose the greatest threat.

Lincolnshire and the Peak District National Park, East of England, the South East and the South West have been identified as pilot areas because of the presence of many vulnerable historic sites and the enthusiasm of local partners.

In the next 12 months or so, the heritage crime initiative will focus on the prevention and detection of four broad types of crime:

  • Damage caused to the historic environment - This refers to physical damage (as a result of fire, graffiti, vandalism and damage caused by cars, motorcycles and other means).
  • Unlawful excavation and removal of articles from the historic environment - This refers to theft from scheduled monuments or protected wrecks and includes illegal metal detecting.
  • Architectural theft - This refers to theft of items from historic buildings and structures like stone walls, vintage street signs and pavements. In recent years a new trend has emerged in the theft of lead and metal from roofs and guttering.
  • Unlawful alteration and demolition of listed buildings

Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage, said: "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."

Richard Crompton, Chief Constable of Lincolnshire and the ACPO national lead for heritage crimes, said: "This is a really important step which will have a significant impact upon the problem of crime and anti-social behaviour in and around our historic environment.  A great many people care deeply about this sort of crime and I believe that we can tap into that concern and interest and work with communities to make a real difference."

Nick Hunt Director of Strategy and Policy at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "I was very pleased that English Heritage invited the Crown Prosecution Service to become a party to this memorandum. It should lead to much better working between English Heritage and its different partners including the CPS. We view heritage crime seriously and those who commit such crime should be aware that the CPS will prosecute if there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest."

Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, seconded from Kent Police in March 2010 to act as Policing Advisor for English Heritage to improve heritage crime prevention and law enforcement in England, said: "Good progress has been made in establishing coordinated working relations between the enforcement agencies and setting priorities at a national level, but the most important part of the initiative is the engagement of communities across the country in establishing their own local networks. A real difference will only follow if this galvanises local action."

Heritage crime is defined to be crime that causes damage to or interferes with the enjoyment of heritage assets in England. Heritage assets include listed buildings, scheduled monuments, conservation areas, registered parks, gardens and battlefields, and World Heritage Sites.

The heritage crime initiative is led by a Strategic Tasking and Coordination Group consisting of English Heritage, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and participating local authorities. This Group sets priorities, directs resources and fosters closer cooperation among all parties to implement strategic and tactical plans to reduce heritage crime. The group is chaired by Chief Constable Richard Crompton, ACPO's national lead on heritage crime.

Key initiatives to be taken forward include:

Awareness and Prevention

  • Provide ARCH members, local authorities and local communities with the knowledge of heritage assets, the threats to them, the laws that protect them and guidance relating to preventative measures and enforcement.
  • Bring enforcement activity to media attention to build public confidence in police and partnership efforts.
  • Creation of local Key Individual Networks so that activities can be better coordinated and can sustain themselves locally.


  • Develop a central data recording system that supports accurate and consistent recording of incidents, crimes and prosecution cases.
  • Create an information exchange protocol between enforcement agencies and other relevant bodies.

Intervention and Sentencing

  • Increase understanding of the range of interventions that can be used to tackle heritage crimes, from verbal warning and restorative justice actions to injunctions and formal prosecutions.
  • Develop guidance to help people understand what courts and magistrates need to sentence heritage crimes appropriately and provide training on how to write impact statements.

What's New?