Posted: 14 April 2021
Sadly, heritage crime is something I come into contact with a lot, especially in relation to Second World War sites. Illicit metal-detecting (night-hawking), digging, vandalism and graffiti all threaten our heritage and our understanding of the past. I work closely in partnership with Sussex Police's Heritage Crime Officer, Daryl Holter and the text below is published here on his behalf.
My name is Daryl Holter, I'm a Police Community Support Officer, Heritage Crime Officer and Advisor based in Hastings, Sussex. I have worked for Sussex Police since 2003. I grew up with a passion for history, so helping to protect our nation's heritage is second nature to me. Therefore, over the last six years I have become increasingly involved in preventing and investigating heritage crime.
Heritage crime is any offence which harms the value of England's heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations.
To many criminals, historic buildings, churches, houses, castles, forts, earthworks, battlefields, wreck sites and other historic sites are simply sources of illicit gain, damage or diversion. These heritage assets are often exploited with no regard to what they may represent to the communities in which they are located. Those who for instance are knowingly buying stolen scrap metal or stolen relics from heritage assets are creating a market which is driving heritage crime, some of these buildings have been around for hundreds of years, surviving world wars and the elements of time and nature but are now being spoiled by us. There are several reasons behind these crimes, greed, selfishness, sheer wanton vandalism, a misguided self-belief of saving our heritage and simply unknowingly committing offences.
Churches are often a victim to heritage crime. Offertory boxes, for example, are forced open or stolen for the donations they may contain, lead is indiscriminately pulled up off roofs, tiles and stonework taken or stained-glass windows removed. All are testament to the skills of medieval craftsmen, and many are stolen or smashed beyond repair - destroying in a moment something that has been familiar to and appreciated by generations.
These crimes often damage the very fabric of the building, their impact is immeasurable, as, even though items might be restored or replaced, the link to the past has gone forever. Heritage crime can have a devastating impact on local communities, far outweighing the material loss suffered.
Another factor is provenance (Provenance in this example being the sequence of events of a historical object ) this is key, if items are stolen or removed it will not only affect us today, it will affect future generations understanding of our past. When items are illicitly removed and not recorded essentially a piece of our history is stolen. Linked to this are those crimes which are unknowingly committed and pose a great threat to our heritage especially when theft also results in damage. An example of this might be illicit metal detecting or unauthorised off-road driving on sites of historical and archaeological importance. Both have impact on archaeology and artefacts, not only are items removed but their context is destroyed resulting in an irreplaceable loss of information.
Heritage crime can be organized and be carried out by an individual or group. This area of crime can be difficult to pre-empt, and it underlines the need for constant vigilance on the part of everyone to whom such things are important.
I work with many partner agencies and authorities to enable me to deal with reports effectively and with most impact. The expertise of these partners helps me to address issues comprehensively. We all have different tools at our disposal, and where one may not be able to deal with an issue, generally another can. It is through our combined strengths that we are most effective.
Understanding the heritage and how it sits within the local community, combined with education, prevention, engagement and support can help save our shared heritage. I support volunteers, local groups and societies who work tirelessly to preserve our heritage, we are all one community.
Some examples of my work supporting heritage sites :
A campaign to restore a Second World War control tower has received a £500 boost from Sussex Police.
Heritage Crime Officer, PSCO Daryl Holter, was able to secure the funding for the 'Save Tangmere Tower' group through the Police Property Act Fund. This is made up of monies received by the police from the sale of found property and from property confiscated by order of the court and then sold.
PCSO Holter said: "I am really happy to help Director Matt Gover-Wren and his team. The Save Tangmere Tower campaign group is an entirely voluntary organisation, and they are using the funds to purchase a new steel front door and perimeter fence, all to help secure the site."
The tower, which is Grade II listed and is on the Heritage at Risk register, has been derelict since the closure of RAF Tangmere in 1970 and has been the subject of antisocial behavior and criminal damage.
Matt Gover-Wren, Director of Save Tangmere Tower, said:
Working with Daryl has been brilliant, he visited us on site and ran through a number of recommendations and general advice going forward. He helped us better understand some aspects of preventative work and connected us with our local policing team.
I have been so thankful to Daryl for his continued support and helping us with this funding. It will enable us to better understand the building and to assess what future work it will need, ultimately allowing us to protect our Second World War heritage.
The National Coastwatch Institution station at Shoreham Port has received a £500 boost from Sussex Police thanks to Heritage Crime Officer PCSO Daryl Holter.
PCSO Holter was able to secure the grant through the Police Property Act Fund, which is made up of monies received by the police from property confiscated by order of the court and then sold. PCSO Holter said "I am really happy to help Laurie Hays, Station Manager and his team at NCI Shoreham. The NCI is an entirely voluntary organisation keeping a visual watch along UK shores, watchkeepers provide the eyes and ears along the coast, monitoring radio channels and providing a listening watch in poor visibility. They are trained to deal with emergencies, offering a variety of skills and experience, and full training by the NCI ensures that high standards are met". The NCI team at Shoreham intend to put the grant towards their fundraising efforts to purchase and install a CCTV system that will enable them to observe parts of their area that are presently hard to monitor for safety purposes.
Laurie Hays, the Station Manager at NCI Shoreham, said "Shoreham NCI are looking to purchase a high definition CCTV system. Much to the delight of the Friends of Shoreham fort one of the cameras will be dedicated to view the site of Shoreham Fort, while another camera will view the beach area surrounding the fort. This grant will not only enhance our view around the station but will also provide added security for the fort which is an incredibly important heritage asset for Shoreham".
Gary Baines, Chairman Friends of Shoreham Fort said "The National Coastwatch tower was originally an aiming light station to support Shoreham Forts guns in WWII and support from the tower continues today, thanks to funding from Sussex Police and the National Coastwatch. This is a great step towards getting CCTV to cover the site of Shoreham Fort and we are very grateful to Sussex Police and to the National Coastwatch for making it a possibility".
I work very closely with museums, especially Bexhill Museum and Heritage Eastbourne who often help me, I also work with many heritage sites including Battle Abbey, Pevensey Castle and Shoreham Fort. I have also been fortunate to work alongside The Diocese of Chichester and Ecclesiastical Insurance, both key to helping with the reduction of Church Crime, this year alongside Heritage Eastbourne all four of us have been talking at the Diocesan Road Shows.
I hope this provides a better understanding of a role within policing which is crucial to keeping our heritage safe. I further hope that this will inspire others to increase cohesion between partners and communities to reduce heritage crime.
Please report all heritage crime at the time on 101 or 999 or alternatively you can contact Crime stoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
We have a choice to defend our heritage, past, present and future. Some take our past heritage for granted; some forget it is amongst our present. We walk on it, drive through it and fly over it. To many I have met it inspires belief, understanding, feeling, depth, culture and emotion. A sense of community, ownership, tradition and belonging. It is tangible, it has mystery, it is constant and priceless. When it falls victim to abuse it is all our moral responsibility to protect our past. It is our future generations that should have opportunity to rediscover, enjoy, experience and interpret the old and the new. We are but custodians of a rich heritage that tells of our journey. Together describes the action needed to preserve our past. Together bonds us as a community, a group or a family. Communities are what hold us together, they watch over our heritage.
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Hibbs, Peter Heritage Crime (2021) Available at: http://wwww.pillbox.org.uk/about/250776/ Accessed: 14 April 2021
The information on this website is intended solely to describe the ongoing research activity of The Defence of East Sussex Project; it is not comprehensive or properly presented. It is therefore NOT suitable as a basis for producing derivative works or surveys!