What is 'Heritage Crime'?
Heritage crime is any crime that causes harm or damage to a building or monument which has been identified as important to the nation’s heritage, or which spoils the public’s enjoyment of such a building or monument. This definition is supported by the Government and by Historic England. The types of crime which come under the heritage crime umbrella include (though are not limited to):
- Theft of material, such as metal or stone, from a historic building or site
- Theft of the contents of a historic building
- Vandalism of a historic site or building
- The unauthorised alteration of a Listed building (i.e. making changes to a Listed church without proper permission)
- Antisocial behaviour in or around a historic building or site.
Statistics show that heritage crime is a large and growing problem in England where approximately one in every five historic buildings is affected in any given year and churches are no exception. In 2019 several churches suffered catastrophic damage as a result of lead roof coverings being stolen; in one case repairing the damage may cost half a million pounds.
Preventing Heritage Crime
Heritage crime is NOT inevitable and there are a number of fairly simple and low-cost actions you can take which will make your church a far less attractive target for criminals. Basic maintenance is in itself a deterrent to criminals as buildings that look as though they are abandoned or falling into disrepair are considered easy prey. Keeping the building open and in use as much as possible also helps deter crime. The more a church building is used and loved by the community it serves, the more that community will rally round to defend it.
You should also take these simple precautions which will greatly reduce the likelihood of crime occurring:
- Ensure that all ladders are securely locked away inside the building and that bins are stored away from the building (ideally chained-up and locked) so that thieves cannot climb up onto the roof.
- Ensure that any gates are locked during the hours of darkness when the building is not in use. This particularly applies to any vehicular access routes.
- Clear any overgrowth of vegetation that thieves and other criminals can use as hiding places either for themselves or for stolen material.
- Encourage the congregation and those living near the church to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity around the church.
Download our FREE booklet “Understanding and Preventing Metal Theft” in PDF format. Whilst this guide deals specifically with metal theft many of the strategies it encourages will prove effective against several other forms of heritage crime.
Reporting Heritage Crime
If your church becomes the victim of heritage crime you need to report it to the Police, stating specifically that you are reporting an incident of heritage crime.
Call 999 ONLY if the crime is in progress, the suspects are still on the scene or there is an immediate danger to life or property.
Call 101 if you have discovered a crime that has taken place and the suspect is no longer on the scene.
Once you have reported the crime to the Police and to your insurers, you should also inform Church of England Birmingham’s Historic Places of Worship Support Officer, Ian Simpson (tel. 0121 820 9838) who will inform the DAC and Historic England and offer advice and support.