Minster adds ecclesiastical weight to campaign against heritage criminality

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YORKSHIRE’S most famous cathedral has joined a campaign to prevent the nation’s heritage being destroyed by criminals.

York Minster has joined the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH), a voluntary national network with more than 100 members to prevent vandalism and metal thefts from centuries-old sites.

The first comprehensive survey on the effects of crime on England’s historic buildings, commissioned by English Heritage and released earlier this year, revealed churches and other religious buildings face the greatest threat. Three out of eight religious buildings were damaged by crime in 2011.

Among the worst cases of vandalism occurred in March last year and saw graffiti daubed on Clifford’s Tower in York. English Heritage officials confirmed it was the worst case of vandalism they had dealt with in recent years.

English Heritage chief executive Dr Simon Thurley said: “The figures are alarming, particularly for our churches. Whilst heritage is 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 nonetheless. Damage done to a listed building or an archaeological site can often not be put right and centuries of history will be lost forever. 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.”

Other organisations which have joined ARCH include police forces, English Heritage and the Country Land and Business Association. Local history societies, community groups and Neighbourhood Watch associations are being urged to raise awareness of the risk of criminal damage to historic sites and buildings in their area.

The English Heritage study showed that Yorkshire, along with the North-East and North-West, topped the table of destruction, with more than a fifth of historic sites suffering some kind of attack over the previous year. London experienced least heritage crime, and English Heritage said the figures showed a “strong link” between the problem and levels of deprivation in communities in the depressed North.

Experts said heritage crime encompassed low-level anti-social behaviour and criminal damage to metal thefts and raids on archaeological sites.