|On Friday 9th September 2016, Leicestershire Police hosted a Heritage Crime Workshop attended by BSIA members Selectamark Security Systems and SmartWater Technology, together with BSIA Technical Manager, Paul Phillips. The workshop coincided with the launch of Operation Crucible, a police-led, multi-agency investigation into the organised theft and unlawful trade of metal. The workshop was led by Mark Harrison FSA, National Policing and Crime Advisor with Historic England and set out to gather experts from many fields to propose ways in which heritage crime, particularly against churches, could be fought.
Many techniques to fight metal theft already exist such as those provided by BSIA members and outlined in the BSIA’s guide to Security of Heritage Properties (Form 188). These can include practical and procedural methods undertaken by property owners together with electronic security, such as burglar alarms, roof alarms and CCTV and property marking, particularly those including forensic markers. The latter acts a strong deterrent to thieves.
A significant difference with heritage crime compared to other crimes is the way in which it affects the wider society and not just the owner. Although the monetary cost can be great, it is the emotional aspect combined with the loss to our civilisation of historically important materials and information that is often of greater concern. A major part of the workshop was the consideration of the theft of lead roofing from churches which has become increasingly common. Thieves can rapidly remove lead from roofs that yield for them only a few hundred pounds but can cost thousands to repair and can result in damage to churches easily reaching £40,000 to £100,000 if the interior is damaged by rain or snow. Frequently the damage is irreparable. It was noted that people often associate churches with important events in their lives such as marriages, christenings and funerals and that wilful destruction of these properties brings with it emotional upset. Additionally criminals often damage graves and headstones as they go about their attacks, having no concern for the impact this has.
In some cases, sentencing guidelines now allow for the heritage aspect of the crime to be taken into account but this is not always the case and participants at the workshop hoped this could be extended.
The BSIA looks forward to initiatives based on the outcomes of the workshop to combat this crime that causes great annoyance and emotional upset to the community at large, as well as loss to the property owners.