Heritage sites protected in new move to target thieves

A PILOT scheme to tackle crime at some of Leigh’s best-loved buildings could be rolled out.

English Heritage, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are steering the development of a nationwide network among enforcement bodies, local councils and groups such as the National Trust, the Church of England and the Woodland Trust to tackle heritage crimes.

The pilot initiative will focus on crimes such as illegal metal detecting, vehicles being driven over archaeological sites, graffiti, arson and criminal damage to historic buildings.

It is hoped it will soon roll out across the borough, especially as one of the main heritage crimes is stealing lead from church roofs, which is on the rise in the area.

Over the last three years thieves have stolen lead and copper from roofs a number of churches, including St Thomas Church, in Golborne, and St George’s Parish Church, in Tyldesley.

In 2006, five churches in the Liverpool Diocese, which includes Leigh, made insurance claims for metal theft, costing more than £2,000, in 2008 there were more than 80 claims, at a cost of more than £180,000 and there were nearly 30 claims last year, costing more than £50,000.

A spokesman from the Diocese of Liverpool said: “We advise all of our churches on the security of their buildings and encourage them to use anti-theft devices such as Smartwater or CCTV.

“Some of our churches are still however victims of heritage crime. We therefore welcome this new scheme, and its joined up approach, which we hope will reduce heritage crimes that can impact on whole communities.”

Brian Parr, of Wigan Archaeological Discovery, said: “It is possible this initiative could work. Anything that can be done to educate people is welcome.”