Interviews regarding Heritage Crime from BBC Radio Merseyside

The problem of Heritage Crime, such as lead theft, has received a great deal of attention in the media.

The 28/10/2011 edition of Tony Snell’s BBC Radio Merseyside breakfast show contained interviews with Hilarie McNae (Cheshire West and Cheshire Councillor) and Craig Guilford (Chief Superintendent, Cheshire Police) on methods of preventing Heritage Crimes in the Cheshire area.

We have preserved this interesting discussion on the Youtube video above and in the transcript produced below.

TONY SNELL: People who look after some of Cheshire’s oldest buildings and monuments are coming together to tackle a crime wave on our historic gems, more on that is on the way next, stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Tony Snell at Breakfast – BBC Radio Merseyside

TONY SNELL: It really does come to something when people who work with our historic monuments and buildings are getting advice on how to secure them as a crime scene. Well, there’s a special conference on heritage crime in Chester today to do just that. It’s because thieves have been stripping metal from the churches, manor houses, war memorials – it’s bronze, it’s copper, it’s lead, and then they sell them on as second-hand scrap. Well, councillor for Cheshire West and Chester council Hilarie McNae is also an English Heritage champion, she met Jim McCracken at Chester Cathedral to explain why the conference is so important.

HILARIE MCNAE: We depend on our heritage. Not only is it good for us Cestrians, people who live here, but we’re also a tourist city, and we’re very anxious to attract people and people come for our heritage.

JIM MCCRACKEN: Having said that then, you must be very disappointed and indeed hurt by this heritage crime wave which is affecting, which is blighting, the area.

HILARIE MCNAE: It’s not just our area, it’s the whole country. There is a national alliance, an association for the reduction of heritage crime that was launched earlier in the year, and all national bodies – English Heritage, Crown Prosecution Service, Association of Chief Police Constables, local authorities – we’re all actively involved in trying to stem this outbreak of heritage crime, and one of the ways we’re doing it is by publicity. We’ve given it a new title, Heritage Crime, it means that all the different aspects that were heritage crime – like arson, graffiti, nighthawking, lead or metal theft, changing conservation buildings without permission – they’ve all coalesced under this one title, and you can just see just how many aspects there are, and how big it is in its entirety.

JIM MCCRACKEN: So what can be done then, Councillor?

HILARIE MCNAE: Well, we’re trying to increase the profile and this sort of programme helps a lot. There’s a lot in the local press, there’s a lot nationally that you’ll have heard of, because it’s by no means only Chester. York has had a big problem, Lincolnshire has, it is a national problem, and so through this organisation we are hoping to increase the profile. We’ve got methods of recording crimes.

JIM MCCRACKEN: So who’s involved at this conference, is it just the councillors and a couple of clergymen?

HILARIE MCNAE: No it isn’t, we have a chief inspector who is on secondment from Kent police to English Heritage. He’s coming and his job will be to train the people there, they’re all professionals on how to preserve the scenes of crime, how to collect information so that we can maximise the information if we catch the perpetrator and secure a conviction. We’ve got people from the council, we’ve got people from Heritage coming, the police, several police people are coming.

JIM MCCRACKEN: Is this the start of a fightback against the thieves, councillor?

HILARIE MCNAE: I think it’s showing them that we really mean business, we are determined to cut this out. And in Chester we are acknowledged, well, in Cheshire, as being in the vanguard in the North of England and we’re having this conference and next year we hope to have a much larger conference for the whole of the North West in Chester.

JIM MCCRACKEN: And this just isn’t a one-of show of strength and a talking shop, you mean business.

HILARIE MCNAE: Oh, we do mean business. One person has already been prosecuted and one of the conservation members produced a witness statement that was read out in court and we understand that this is the first time this has happened. Something like 70% of people visit one historic building a year, and 15% go once a month. In Chester we’ve got over 40 organisations to do with heritage, all very, very enthusiastic people, and these are the people we hope are going to be the eyes and ears in the more rural areas, because they know their area really well and they will soon spot if something’s going wrong and now they’ve got a mechanism for how to report that. And they’ll be being trained on how to secure any scenes of crime.

TONY SNELL: Now we were talking about the theft of the likes of lead and copper and brass plaques, you know, from our monuments, from our heritage, from these wonderful buildings across Cheshire – and it happens in Merseyside too – and how we’re actually going to combat that. Listening to the interview previously was Chief Superintendent Craig Guilford, who joins me now. Chief Superintendent, good morning to you, how much can you do to prevent this type of crime, should we be covering up monuments or hitching up CCTV cameras to them, it seems a real shame this, doesn’t it?

CRAIG GUILFORD: Completely. And the main point is it’s not a victimless crime, the cost of repair runs into tens of thousands of pounds for some of these institutions. And again, there’s a knock-on effect to trying to get insurance after the second time it’s happened on some occasions. So what I would say is that the main thing we need is information from the public. A really good recent example was in Willaston, somebody phoned us up about the theft of a war memorial, we’ve took action against that information and we’ve arrested somebody and charged them and put them before the court.

TONY SNELL: So there’s no scruples then, a war memorial, you know, if it’s got a bit of brass, bit of copper on it, let’s just take it, you know, it doesn’t really matter that, you know, the historical significance of it. I mean, that’s the lowest of the low, isn’t it?

CRAIG GUILFORD: I fully agree with you and I think the public will as well. Absolutely repulsive crime to commit, and again we’ve had churches within Chester that have been done two or three times. But, once again, members of the public ring us up, we’ve gone, we’ve done some CCTV trawling and we’ve found the offender for that and put him before the court as well.

TONY SNELL: It seems a bit crazy, there’s the people involved in looking after such important historical sites for our children and grandchildren, so they can enjoy it in the future, are now being trained in how to preserve a crime scene. It’s a shame, isn’t it?

CRAIG GUILFORD: That’s right, and I was speaking to the Reverend in Willaston only yesterday about some SmartWater that we’ve installed in his premises. But I think really what we’ve got to do is realise that crime’s down in Cheshire significantly, and in our end of Cheshire it’s down by about 20% over the last two years. But, that said, these type of offenses seem to be popping up with slightly more frequency than they have done in the past, and I think most of that is due to the price of lead and the fact that some of these buildings are unoccupied for large periods of time.

TONY SNELL: And they must be taking them somewhere, what about the scrap dealers? I mean, are they in on this? I mean, not all of them obviously, there’s some good ‘uns and bad ‘uns as there is through life, really, but, you know, get to the source of this?

CRAIG GUILFORD: I think you’re dead right, there’s these types of operations we do, we try and target those that we get most intelligence on that are doing these type of things, responding to information from the public and, again, working with the scrap dealers. And indeed, in the evidential chain we need to engage with the scrap dealers, we’ve got some powers around inspecting their books and visiting their premises, which we do do. But the main thing is that we need the information from the public to try and stop this from happening in the first place.

TONY SNELL: Okay. I mean, lead is lead, you could say this is from my house once you’ve folded that up into a big roll, stuck it in your wagon or whatever and dropped it off, you know, lead is lead, you can’t really tell where it’s come from. But a huge church bell, I mean that is going to be a little bit unique to try and pass off to a dealer really, isn’t it?

CRAIG GUILFORD: Yeah that’s right, it’s like trying to sell an elephant, I would think. But unfortunately, you know, things like that are happening and it’s really frustrating for our communities, it’s really frustrating for our police officers, and again I just appeal for the information. Ring us up, we’ll respond to it really quickly, and hopefully get the property back before it’s damaged or sold on.

TONY SNELL: Okay, if anybody’s suspicious of this or if they see something, because you know, we do in this country and particularly in our heritage areas like Chester and Merseyside and parts of Wirral too, you know, we love our heritage as well and I’m sure there wouldn’t be a problem with people coming forward and passing on information. How do they do that, Chief Superintendent?

CRAIG GUILFORD: Very, very easily. Ring a local police station in Cheshire or in Merseyside – because I know the station covers the two – you can contact us via the internet, you can write in to us, you can call to the front desk of the police station. Again, come with the information and we’ll respond.

TONY SNELL: Thank you very much indeed. Chief Superintendent Craig Guilford there, just, on the increasing problem of metal thefts from our historical buildings.

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