Graffiti on a church building
Graffiti on the remains of Holy Rood Church in Swindon, Wiltshire. © Historic England Archive. DP235792.
Graffiti on the remains of Holy Rood Church in Swindon, Wiltshire. © Historic England Archive. DP235792.

What is Heritage Crime?

This page explores the definition of heritage crime, the scale of heritage crime in England and what's being done to tackle it.

What is heritage crime?

Heritage crime is any offence which harms the value of heritage assets and their settings.

Some heritage assets are protected by specific legislation to prevent harm caused by damage or unlicensed alteration.

However, other crimes such as theft, criminal damage, arson and anti-social behaviour offences can also damage and harm heritage assets, and interfere with the public's enjoyment and knowledge of their heritage.

Heritage assets are sites which are considered to have a value to the heritage of England and include:

  • Listed buildings
  • Scheduled monuments
  • World Heritage Sites
  • Protected marine wreck sites
  • Conservation areas
  • Registered parks and gardens
  • Registered battlefields
  • Protected military remains of aircraft and vessels of historic interest
  • Undesignated but acknowledged heritage buildings and sites.

How big a problem is heritage crime?

Historic England commissioned research into the scale of heritage crime in England. The research found that historic places are not being targeted over other places, except for their valuable materials and artefacts. They are suffering a substantial rate of attrition nonetheless and they are of course susceptible to irreversible harm.

The research indicated that:

  • An estimated 18.7% of all listed buildings were physically affected by crime last year. That is over 70,000 listed buildings
  • For almost 30,000 listed buildings the impact was substantial
  • The biggest single threat is metal theft and the most threatened type of building is a church. About 3 in 8 churches or other religious buildings were damaged by crime last year

You can read the summary below:

The full report, published in 2012 and called ‘The Extent of Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour Facing Designated Heritage Assets’, includes findings on:

  • The most prevalent types of heritage crime
  • Those heritage assets most affected by crime
  • The type of crime which most affects each category of heritage asset, such as listed buildings or scheduled monuments
  • The prevalence of heritage crime in different types of area

Download the full report:

The research was carried out by Newcastle University, Loughborough University and the Council of British Archaeology.

For a comprehensive study of current and emerging threats download the National Strategic Threat Assessments for Heritage and Cultural Property Crime for 2013 and 2017.

The assessments were prepared by Historic England and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to shape strategic and operational decision-making by providing an overview of the key issues affecting the delivery of effective assessment of intelligence, preventative measures, investigation, intervention and enforcement in relation to crime and anti-social behaviour committed against heritage assets and cultural property in the United Kingdom.

What is being done about heritage crime?

Historic England, together with the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and a range of partners across the heritage and law enforcement sectors, has set up the Heritage Crime Programme.

The three main organisations have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which sets out their responsibilities for tackling heritage crime.

A growing number of organisations such as local and national park authorities have also joined this coordinated effort.

We have developed an online training scenario for Police Officers, Police Community Support Officers and Specialist Constables in an urban setting.