Damage to National Heritage Assets


Following a recent consultation, the Sentencing Council for England & Wales published new guidelines on 3rd July, intended to enable courts in England & Wales to take full account of the harm caused by these offences, over and above the direct physical and financial loss.  The new guidelines  will come into force on 1st October 2019.

The full impact of arson or criminal damage such as vandalism on national heritage assets including listed buildings, historic objects or unique parts of national heritage and history must now be taken into account when considering a sentence.

 Welcoming the new guidelines Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England, said:

“England’s heritage can’t be valued purely in economic terms. The impact of criminal damage and arson to our historic buildings and archaeological sites has far-reaching consequences over and above what has been damaged or lost.  Damage to our heritage comes in many forms. Whether it be graffiti painted on the walls of a historic church, vandalism to the stonework of an ancient castle or causing a fire that devastates a Medieval barn or Victorian pier; these offences have a detrimental impact on both the historic property or site and the local community in which it is located. The new guidelines will help the courts identify all the relevant factors to include in their sentencing decisions as they will now be able to consider ‘threats to cause criminal damage’, ‘the act of damage’ and ‘damage by fire’. It will also aid Historic England’s work with the Police and Crown Prosecution Service when cases involve damage caused to heritage or cultural assets.”  (Sentencing Council Press Release)

Neil Odin, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council Prevention Coordination Committee, commented:

“I fully support these new guidelines for dealing with arson attacks through the courts. Deliberate acts of arson are a blight on our local communities and have an economic impact on businesses. In addition, damage and the loss of historical buildings is disruptive and impacts on our vitally important heritage. Arson also increases demands on the already stretched resources of fire services across the country, which can result in diverting resources away from other incidents. It is worrying to see that there has been an upward trend of arson since 2014/15 and while we will continue with prevention work to reduce these figures, it is important the courts can deal with criminal damage appropriately, sending a clear message to other people.” (Sentencing Council Press Release)

Emily Gould of the Institute of Art & Law also observes  “This new development is another example of the growing recognition by the courts of the importance of protecting cultural property. As the guidelines acknowledge, damage to heritage assets encompasses far more than financial and material loss; it risks depriving this generation and those to come of the shared culture, history and experience which provides meaning and context to our lives and communities.”  (Post )