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Recent initiatives to tackle Heritage Crime including the formation of ARCH (The Alliance to Reduce Heritage Crime) and the current Survey to investigate how widespread it is are very welcome. However, Heritage Crime has been officially defined as “any offence which harms the value of heritage assets” and this is problematical as it sends a damaging implied message to the public that the only heritage assets that exist or which matter are designated, protected ones (which is SO not true) and only those can suffer crime (which is technically true) and therefore harm (which is massively not true).

So it would perhaps be far better if the official definition of Heritage Crime was any offence which harms the value of protected heritage assets” so that the public could understand that there are lots of heritage assets apart from protected ones and that while damaging them isn’t a crime it certainly isn’t other than highly regrettable and to be avoided where possible.  After all, English Heritage estimates there are approaching a million unprotected archaeological sites in England and Wales and every single one of them is entirely open to legal damage by legal farming practices, legal artefact hunting and just about any action anyone cares to take against them including knocking them over, flattening them out, digging them up, concreting them over or crushing them. While such actions aren’t heritage crimes they could be judged to be crimes against heritage and a broad public understanding that they are undesirable is surely desireable? Particularly as the very lack of protection and the massive number of such sites strongly suggest legal heritage damage dwarfs criminal heritage damage. What more important heritage message could there be than that?

Once before (as a result of the Nighthawking Survey) a focus upon combatting heritage crime diverted public attention from much greater legalised damage. Perfectly legal (but non-reporting and otherwise inappropriate) metal detecting must dwarf the damage caused by illegal detecting, given the disparity in respective numbers of people involved – perhaps by a factor of fifty. Now, unless the existence of damage to unprotected heritage is stressed another highly inaccurate impression will be given to the public as a result of this latest Heritage Crime campaign.

To summarise:

Yes, this happens …..

But this happens FAR more often…..

So why not mention the fact to the public?


October 2011

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