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‘Heritage crime’ surveyed

22 March 2012

by a staff reporter

Rare relief: a medieval alabaster reredos depicting The An­nunciation, stolen from St Peter’s, Drayton, in Oxfordshire, a fortnight ago. For more information, please contact the Oxford DAC ON 01865 208229 MARTIN BEEK

Rare relief: a medieval alabaster reredos depicting The An­nunciation, stolen from St Peter’s, Drayton, in Oxfordshire, a fortnight ago. For more info...

MORE than one third of Britain’s churches and religious buildings were damaged by crime last year, a survey of crime against Britain’s historic buildings, commissioned by English Heritage, has found.

The report Heritage Crime: The size of the problem says that 70,000 listed buildings — 18.7 per cent of the entire stock in England — were targeted by criminals last year alone. And, at 30,000 buildings, the damage caused was substantial.

Metal theft was found to be the most common crime, and churches most at risk of attack; and three in every eight of Britain’s churches was damaged by criminals last year, the survey found.

The chief executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley, said that irreparable damage meant that “centuries of history will be lost”.

Among the examples of damage cited in the survey was a man’s spray-painting his Twitter-account details on the 11th-century Clifford’s Tower in York.

Other examples included the repeated theft of roof metal from St Mary’s, Andover, whose organ was subsequently ruined by the resulting leaks, and a group who drove a 4x4 vehicle over the remains of a Roman settlement.

Dr Thurley said: “The figures are alarming, particularly for our churches. Whilst heritage assets are not necessarily being targeted over other places, save perhaps for their valuable materials and artefacts, they are suffering a substantial rate of attrition from crime none the less.

“Damage done to a listed building or an archaeological site can often not be put right, and centuries of history will be lost for ever. These places have an obviously high value to society. Their particular vulnerability war­rants every effort to ensure they are still around for future generations to enjoy just as much as we enjoy them now.”

English Heritage has been run­ning a heritage crime programme for two years with the aim of reducing the amount of damage done to the nation’s heritage assets.

This week, a church closely as­sociated with Thomas Hardy, St Michael’s, Stinsford, in Dorset, be­came one of the latest targets of lead-thieves, after nine roof panels were stolen in a night-time raid.

In Beverley, Yorkshire, thieves returned three nights running to strip lead flashing and drainpipes from St Mary’s Church.

Thieves have caused £3000 of damage inside Holy Spirit, Plymouth, after they broke in and wrenched off padlocked cupboards to get at equip­ment.

The Government is trying to crack down on the metal thefts that have plagued churches, by ban­ning cash transactions in the scrap industry. A loophole, however, would allow “itinerant collectors” still to buy and sell in cash, which would mean that the market in stolen metal would continue to flourish, the Labour peer Lord Faulkner argued this week.


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