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New Guidelines Target Heritage Thieves

The Sentencing Council has announced new theft guidelines which includes for the first time, theft of historic objects or the loss of the nation's heritage. Historic England welcomes this as a significant milestone in its work to protect England's heritage and combat heritage crime.

New guidelines target heritage thieves

Plaques stolen from war memorials, organised gangs stripping church roofs of lead, ‘nighthawks’ stealing historic objects from the ground and unlawful salvage from historic shipwrecks are all heritage crimes, which for the first time will be recognised in the sentencing process. This follows new guidelines announced today (Tuesday, 6 October 2015) by the Sentencing Council which adds weight to thefts that cause damage to ‘heritage assets.’

The recognition of the importance of heritage in the consideration of theft offences is a huge endorsement for Historic England’s work over the past five years to combat and prevent heritage crime. The change to the guidelines will come into force in all courts in England and Wales in February 2016.

Lead theft at St Peter’s Church, Plemstall, Cheshire
Lead theft at St Peter’s Church, Plemstall, Cheshire © Historic England

Stealing the irreplaceable

Welcoming new sentencing guidelines for heritage crimes involving theft, Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Adviser for Historic England said: “The value of England’s heritage can’t be judged in pounds and pence. The impact of theft on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen.

Mark Harrison added: “Heritage crime comes in many forms. When thieves steal metal from heritage assets, such as listed churches, artefacts from the ground or historic stonework from an ancient castle, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable.”

The new guidelines will help the courts identify all the relevant factors to include in their sentencing decisions in relation to heritage crime including ‘going equipped to steal,’ ‘the act of theft’ and ‘handling stolen goods’. It will also aid Historic England’s work with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service in bringing theft cases to court where it involves loss and damage to a significant ‘heritage asset’.

People examining site of nighthawking
Forensic examination of nighthawking at Irchester Roman Settlement in Northamptonshire © Historic England

Guidelines to aid bringing heritage crime theft cases to court

Research published in 2012 by English Heritage, (now known as Historic England) highlighted that in 2011, over 200 crimes were committed against listed buildings across England every day, affecting over 70,000 listed buildings and three in every eight churches. According to Ecclesiastical Insurance Group’s (EIG) latest data, a total of more than 6700 churches and 42 commercial heritage properties, such as museums and country houses, have fallen victim to metal thieves in the last five years, costing nearly £12.5 million (April 2014).

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