On 24 January 2019 IAL Senior Researcher Emily Gould and I attended a workshop on heritage crime organised by Historic England. The aim of the workshop was to present to the attendees the various types of heritage crime that can be committed, how the perpetrators can be convicted and appropriate sentences to be handed down on successful conviction. The workshop also sought to examine how the profile of heritage crime can be raised and more importantly the classification of such crimes as ‘heritage crimes’ by local constabularies.
Many of the issues surrounding heritage crime centre around a lack of understanding by the various enforcement agencies of its nature and existence. This is most evident in the countryside. Another problem is the difference in language and vocabulary used by the different bodies concerned – the police and the various heritage bodies each have their own language and acronyms, with little understanding between the two. The various guises of heritage crime were presented, ranging from straight-up theft of metal such as statues and lead from church roofs – generally for scrap metal value – and activities undertaken without permission on scheduled monuments, listed buildings and protected wrecks.
Emily presented the current sentencing guidelines for heritage crime and the welcome amendment to the guideline for theft which now specifies that theft of a heritage asset is an aggravating factor when determining the sentence. It is hoped that a similar amendment will be added to the sentencing guidelines for criminal damage later this year. Other presentations at the workshop discussed the updating of guidelines for the prevention of heritage crime as well as the presentation of a handbook on heritage crime for students and the police.
The day ended with a discussion of various case studies illustrating the different types of heritage crime, who the investigatory authorities may have been and the resultant sentence. The event was attended by a diverse group of people that included solicitors, barristers, police inspectors, academics and various heritage professionals. Many questions and ideas have arisen from the day and the key now is to make sure that all this is disseminated to the various interested parties across the enforcement and heritage sectors.