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PCC supports campaign to change how police record offences involving heritage sites

  • Last Updated: 03-04-2024 at 11:04

A campaign to change the way that the police record offences involving the loss and damage to the nation’s heritage sites and buildings is being championed by Lincolnshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

PCC Marc Jones is at the forefront of the call to develop a heritage crime “marker” on police call handling and crime management systems so the issue can be understood better.

Mr Jones, recently appointed as the lead on the Association of Police and Crime Commissioner’s heritage crime group, believes the change to police systems would lead to a more accurate understanding of true scale and extent of heritage crime.

This would enable more effective crime prevention and enforcement activity.

The move comes in the wake of a special report released this week that identified the range of emerging threats to the historic environment, including the theft of historic lead and stone, unlawful metal detecting (also known as nighthawking) and antisocial behaviour.

The research, carried out over three years from 2020, identified a rise in theft and vandalism at the nation’s most cherished historic sites, with the cost of living crisis expected to only worsen the problem.

Thefts of historic stone from heritage sites, for example, rose 9% in 2022.

There have been two nationally significant Lincolnshire Police operations to intercept and prosecute criminals taking lead from church roofs across the country – called Operation History and Operation Dastardly.

In Operation Dastardly a gang responsible for stripping lead from 40 churches were caught and jailed in May last year after an investigation by Lincolnshire Police.

During Operation History a gang responsible for a large number of church lead theft cases stretching from Somerset to North Yorkshire was caught and jailed for a total of 22 years. A number of church roofs in Lincolnshire were targeted by the gang and the county’s force set up a dedicated team to catch the offenders.

But heritage experts believe more can be done to identify, track and prevent crime at historic sites if crimes were better recorded, collated and analysed.

“We can be positive about the work being done to address heritage crime and there have been significant successes in tracking and prosecuting offenders, particularly in Lincolnshire,” said Mr Jones.

“Yet we cannot afford to be complacent. There is always more that can be done and, in particular, it would be a positive step to see heritage crimes identified and recorded as such so we can properly understand the task ahead.

“Offences which target our unique and valuable heritage sites are particularly appalling as the damage can never really be repaired or restored to its original state. Once the history has gone it has disappeared forever.”

Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime at Historic England said: ““These sites and objects effectively belong to all of us. When these criminals remove or damage something beyond repair, it’s lost.”

“The findings will help us to develop the new tactics and technologies required to be one step ahead of those intent on stealing from our past.”

The summary of the research can be seen here