Heritage crime crackdown follows illegal wreck dive
AN ILLEGAL dive on a protected South Devon wreck site has been highlighted in news of a new crackdown on heritage crime.
English Heritage has brought in a top cop to lead the fight against the growing number of heritage crimes ranging from vandal attacks on historic buildings to damaging illegal excavations by treasure hunters local for historic valuable.
Illegal diving on wreck and illegal metal detector expeditions on protected sites are part of what is believed to be a growing problem.
An English Heritage report revealed that the Salcombe Canon site, just off the coast between Prawle Point and the entrance to Salcombe Harbour, has 'suffered vandalism and damage by rogue divers and unauthorised fishing vessels'.
The site of the 17th Century shipwreck is protected by law.
The report added: "Swift action by the coastguard and the police resulted in the offenders being given a formal warning and they also put an open message of apology in a popular diving magazine."
The South West region has been chose as a pilot area for the crack down because of the large number of sensitive historic sites in the area.
Problems have included the theft of lead from historic roofs and 4x4 drivers using historic areas as race tracks.
Representatives from more than 40 organisations, ranging from the National Trust, the Church of England, Crimestoppers and Ministry of Defence to National Parks, the Woodland Trust and the Historic Houses Association have met to form the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage.
Local history societies, amenity groups, neighbourhood watch and residents associations will be encouraged to raise awareness of the risk of criminal damage to historic sites and buildings in their area.
In the next 12 months or so, the heritage crime initiative will focus on the prevention and detection of four broad types of crime – damage caused by things like graffiti and vandalism, unlawful excavations and the theft of items, unlawful alterations of demolition of protected buildings and the architectural theft of things like vintage street signs, pavements and even stone walls.
Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, seconded from Kent Police in March 2010 to act as policing advisor for English Heritage to improve heritage crime prevention and law enforcement in England, said: "Good progress has been made in establishing co-ordinated working relations between the enforcement agencies and setting priorities at a national level, but the most important part of the initiative is the engagement of communities across the country in establishing their own local networks to prevent and tackle heritage crime.
"A real difference will only follow if this galvanises local action."
Andrew Vines, English Heritage regional director for the south west, said: "Heritage crimes rob us of our history. Their effect on our lives is insidious and felt often too late.
"Beautiful buildings are scarred forever, places we treasure and enjoy lose their identity and appeal, evidence about our past is lost and tourism suffers, not to mention the burden on owners to repair and put things right. Society needs to work together to combat these criminal activities."