Heritage groups and local residents are being urged to be the eyes and ears of the police in Yorkshire’s most visited city to stop criminals targeting its historic assets.
The York Heritage Watch group was launched today in a bid to stop the thefts and criminal damage offences that could have a major impact on the walled city’s tourist economy.
Heritage is valuable and contributes a lot to our society, it creates value in a lot of different areas, not just cultural, aesthetic and social, but there is also a real economic value to heritage.Dr David Fraser, Chief Executive of York Civic Trust
The scheme, the fifth of its kind in the country, was started after a “burglar’s tool kit” was found outside the Grade I listed building which houses the city’s Stained Glass Centre. It is feared the equipment was left to be picked up later by a burglar who could have used it to access the building.
Heritage crimes, described as any offence which causes harm to heritage assets and their settings, are said to be under-reported, meaning police do not have the full picture of the type of crimes committed.
It emerged at today’s launch that an act of vandalism had taken place at a city church, with two signs ripped from the wall, but the matter was not reported to police.
The founders of the group hope those interested in local heritage sites will come together to share information and take more frequent inventories of valuable items.
Police will be trained to look out for heritage concerns when any crimes are reported and relay information back to the local community.
Dr David Fraser, Chief Executive of York Civic Trust, described a recent incident where a statue of Roman emperor Constantine was vandalised by a man who stole his sword.
The perpetrator was ordered to pay back the money for repair costs, but only at a rate of £5 a week from his benefits.
Dr Fraser said: “Heritage is valuable and contributes a lot to our society, it creates value in a lot of different areas, not just cultural, aesthetic and social, but there is also a real economic value to heritage.
“In the Yorkshire region there is £2.1bn spent on on heritage in a year. But the problem it that it relies on assets that are vulnerable, special and delicate and once it it lost, it is lost.
“Our objective is to get together to make sure the importance of heritage is recognised and when crime happens it is dealt with as best as it can be at the time.
“That means reducing the amount of crime and having a very fast response so people know it is not worth carrying out a crime.
“A church in rural North Yorkshire had £3,000 worth of lead stolen this year but it is worth £16,000 to put it back.
“The objective of all of this is to bring together those who know about heritage and those who benefit from it, such as shopkeepers and B&B owners, and people who know how to deal with heritage crime, the police.
“In these current days there will never be enough police officers. They rely on the community to be their eyes and ears. It is not just about policing on the ground, it is about everyone taking an interest, one community acting together.”
Former senior police officer John Minary, who is chairing the new group, said: “Heritage crime is a problem in both urban and rural areas, with nationally important heritage assets being at risk from damage and theft - particularly metal theft.
“And because police resources are more stretched than ever before, they need the public to be their eyes and ears on the ground, in towns, cities and in the countryside.”
Inspector Jon Grainge, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said the loss of any of York’s valuable heritage assets could effect the city’s economy. He said the Heritage Watch scheme would start in York, with a view to it being rolled out to the rest of North Yorkshire.
Residents are also being urged to sign up to North Yorkshire Community Messaging, a free community messaging system providing information about recent offences, so they are up to date with trends relating to heritage crime.