12:04am Monday 19th March 2012
© Press Association 2014
Almost a fifth of England's most precious historic buildings were hit by crimes ranging from vandalism to metal theft last year, English Heritage has said.
The first comprehensive survey of the impact of crime on England's historic buildings and sites found that churches and other religious buildings were the most affected, with more than a third (37.5%) damaged by criminal activity.
In total some 70,000 listed buildings, accounting for 19% of the total listed building stock, were hit by crime, with almost half of those badly damaged. Structures with the highest level of protection were the worst hit.
Metal theft in the face of rising global prices is the single biggest problem facing old buildings, particularly places of worship, with one in seven churches damaged by having materials such as lead stolen from them last year.
In one case reported in the survey, a church in Hampshire saw its organ ruined by water leaks after thieves repeatedly stole metal from the roof. For scheduled monuments such as prehistoric stone circles and archaeological sites, the biggest problems are anti-social behaviour including flytipping and trail-biking, which can deter visitors and investment, and illegal metal detecting for treasure.
Protected wrecks are also subject to criminal activity from illegal diving to theft, with a case in the report in which several 16th century bronze cannon, metal ingots and Second World War ammunition were seized by the authorities.
Other examples of crimes against England's heritage include a group who drove a 4x4 over the remains of a Roman settlement and a man who spray-painted the internationally important Clifford's Tower in York - with details of his Twitter account.
The damage caused - which can in some cases never be put right - can run to hundreds of thousands of pounds in the rare cases of arson, and tens of thousands of pounds in the case of metal thefts from buildings, the report suggests. Damage to listed phone boxes alone cost BT £120,000 in a year, the report found.
Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: "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."
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