Thefts From Heritage Sites in the U.K. Are Rising

Thefts From Heritage Sites in the U.K. Are Rising, a Report by Historic England and National Police Chiefs' Council Shows.

Mar 16, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Thefts From Heritage Sites in the U.K.
A sign reading “No Lead Zinc Roof No Value” outside a church in Norfolk, U.K., to deter potential thieves who target churches for their lead roofs. Photo: Geography Photos/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.


Thefts from heritage sites in the U.K. are rising, a report from Historic England and National Police Chiefs’ Council shows. The latest study arrives at the end of a period of research conducted by crime experts. These experts come from the National Crime Intelligence Unit for Serious Organized Acquisitive Crime, which started in February 2020.


Thefts From Heritage Sites Increased by 9% in 2022

llanbadrig church anglesey saint patrick
Photo of Llanbadrig Church, Llanbadrig, Anglesey, Source


The research analyses significant forms of criminal risks to historic and cultural sites. These are the stealing of lead and stone roofing, nighthawks (the practice of illegal medal detection), high-value robberies. Also, the elimination of artefacts from protected wreck sites. Arson and graffiti are two more types of property damage. The stealing of historical stone is claimed to have increased by nine percent in 2022.


York stone, a popular building choice due to its strength and colour variation, became identified as a prime target for theft. According to a new analysis, restoring stolen York stone blocks from historic houses can cost up to £400 ($510) each square metre. “When metal, stone, or other items become stolen from our historic buildings and cultural sites, it impacts the communities who enjoy those spaces”, said assistant chief constable Rachel Nolan, the NPCC lead for Heritage Crime.


llywelyn ap gruffudd, Thefts From Heritage Sites in the U.K.
A (rather imaginative) statue representing Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in Wales, created by Gideon and Toby Peterson, via Art UK.


He also added: “We welcome any research into this area of criminality. It helps us better understand the issue and, therefore, tailor our response to pursue offenders and deter any future opportunists”. Theft of metal roofing (mainly lead) surged by 41 percent during the pandemic restrictions. However, this figure is now dropping. This decline could be relating to the lesser cost that lead is fetching in the market compared to past years.

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Which Reasons Contributed to Stealing?

atatue aristotle
Statue of Aristotle, 1870 Burlington Gardens, London, via Art UK.


Many antique churches started swapping lead roofs with stainless steel ones. Lockdown periods were among the causes cited for a rise in crime and property destruction. Metal stealing from historic sites of worship was at an all-time high. There is also the cost of living crisis, expected to increase the rate of thefts by “opportunist offenders and organized crime groups”. General anti-social behaviour is another factor. “Cyber-enabled crime” also came up as something that will affect crime rates.


The use of the internet to sell stolen historical objects raises the likelihood of counterfeits entering the market. The study discovered that, while night-hawking practices have been curtailed due to the cooperation of landlords and the metal-detecting community, cultural object theft from galleries, museums, and stately mansions is increasing. The study predicted that about £3.2 million ($4 million) in cultural property was taken between 2021 and 2022.


normans conquered england castle rising
Castle Rising, built in the 12th century, is an excellent example of Norman architecture. Sadly, the crenellations, which were a hallmark of Norman design, are in a state of disrepair on this particular building; via


Amid high-profile crimes from the British Museum last year, other British institutions began discussing the rate of museum robberies. Historic England’s chief executive, Duncan Wilson, has stated that “heritage and cultural property crime robs us of our collective history,” and that “this research marks the next stage in our commitment to tackle such crime”.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.