Tackling threats to the historic environment from metal theft

Posted on: September 13, 2016 by

A fascinating and extremely productive day was had by all those attending the Heritage Crime Workshop organised by Historic England and Leicestershire Police last Friday (9th September). The topic was the theft of metal from historic sites and buildings. Delegates ranged from enforcement officers to representatives from the church, experts from heritage organisations and leading figures from the metals industry.

The workshop marked the culmination of a week of activity across England to tackle metal theft, dubbed ‘Operation Crucible’. This included spot checks on scrap metal dealers whose activities are licensed and who, since the Scrap Metal Dealers Act of 2013, are prohibited from engaging in cash transactions.

By West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By West Midlands Police, CC via Wikimedia Commons

Metal theft has been estimated to cost the UK as much as £770m a year; but more than this, in the words of Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Adviser for Historic England: “When thieves steal metal from protected sites and buildings such as churches, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable”. The devastating impact these offences can have on individuals and communities was brought into sharp focus by some hard-hitting presentations and personal stories of loss and destruction.

These accounts certainly spurred us on to complete our task for the day: to create a new UK strategy to tackle metal theft. No mean feat, but one which was approached with enthusiasm, rigour and even some refreshingly blue-sky thinking by delegates and presenters alike. Potential responses included the predictable – but crucial – co-ordination of intelligence gathering on a national scale and the implementation of physical and forensic security measures on a consistent basis. Thinking outside the box, we heard how the latest craze of the ‘Pokemon Go’ game might offer some innovative ideas about tackling heritage crime through crowd sourcing.

At the end of the day, each team presented their strategy. The output was extremely impressive and a great start to the work which will now continue to establish and implement a robust approach to metal theft. We look forward to continuing our support for this important initiative and will keep you updated on progress.