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3. Where we are now

Despite the strong reactions from some in the metal detecting community to the survey that have been discussed elsewhere (Wilson forthcoming), in general there has been a consensus that illicit metal detecting is a threat to both our archaeological heritage and those responsible metal-detector users who fear the bad publicity that nighthawks bring to their hobby. Rightly, detectorists have claimed that nighthawks are not 'real' metal-detector users but rather thieves who use detectors as a burglar might use a jemmy. Other metal-detector users fear that they will all be assumed to be nighthawks and subject to harassment while undertaking legitimate activities on land where they have permission to be. A counter argument to those concerns is that many metal-detector users regularly detect particular locations and thereby become known to those living in the area and the friends and neighbours of the landowners and occupiers. Their physical presence may serve as a deterrent to illegal activity, but it also allows them the potential of becoming key members of the battle against the criminals through acting as well-informed eyes and ears working with the police and other agencies.

Given the difficulties that Oxford Archaeology had encountered in gathering data that could be adequately validated, there was clear need after the publication of the survey for there not to be a vacuum, such as that which apparently followed the Dobinson and Denison report. Consequently, Oxford Archaeology were commissioned by English Heritage to continue to receive and compile data on verified and possible cases for a further year.

During that year, resources were obtained to second a police officer to develop heritage crime advice within English Heritage under what has now become the Heritage Crime Programme (Harrison and Wilson in prep.). Illicit detecting as an issue has been subsumed within the broader definition of heritage crime: 'any offence which harms the value of England's heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations'.

Seeking to develop responses to illicit detecting as an issue can perhaps be regarded as having opened the way for the Heritage Crime Initiative, as it raised the profile of offences against the Historic Environment and demonstrated that people in the historic environment sector and beyond were interested in protecting our collective past. That interest validates the many years of effort by individuals, and campaigning by Rescue and the CBA referred to above, by offering individuals and groups a realistic prospect of achieving something that would benefit all interested in securing a future for our heritage. For too many years the failure to achieve convictions, or at least convictions where the penalties would have a deterrent effect (Browning 1995), had led to a situation where many landowners felt that few were interested in attacks on the sites in their care and, that no-one was in a position to do anything to challenge those looting our past.

Following on from The Nighthawking Survey, in many areas the profile of illicit detecting has allowed cases to act as a stimulus to developing links with the Police Service, and other agencies with responsibilities for and groups interested in protecting the historic environment. Similarly, understanding of offences around illicit metal detecting has developed. From a situation where English Heritage staff, and particularly the Heritage Crime Advisor, had regularly needed to mentor and guide local police officers through the potential offences and the intricacies of heritage legislation, we are now seeing the designation of Heritage Crime officers within police services who can act as local experts. Often these officers also have responsibility for Wildlife and Rural Crime, in recognition of both the fact that the majority of illicit detecting activity takes place in the countryside, and also that many engaged in rural crime will turn their hand to anything in order to obtain a financial benefit.

Within the last eighteen months there has been an upturn in the number of arrests for illegal metal detecting, with police services cooperating across force boundaries in recognition of the fact that nighthawkers will travel considerable distances to sites. Police enforcement activities against illicit detecting are becoming more sophisticated, with arrests on site being followed up by searches on homes and business premises, often with heritage professionals forming part of the team in order to provide immediate advice and preliminary identifications on the material found.

At the time of writing two recent cases have come to a conclusion. The case of R v Lomas represents the first successful prosecution under the partnership approach developed as part of the Heritage Crime Programme. Police action followed repeated reports from landowners in Lincolnshire of damage to land and crops caused by people digging holes to recover artefacts without permission. At Skegness Magistrates Court on 21 August 2012, Kevin Lomas was found guilty of going equipped to steal and theft of eight of the items found at his home - four coins, two brooches, a mount and an enamel bead, valued at a total of £500. He was given a conditional discharge for 12 months, the stolen artefacts were forfeited, his metal detecting equipment was confiscated and he was ordered to pay £400 in court costs. The case was developed in a partnership between Lincolnshire Police and English Heritage, working with finds experts at the British Museum who provided evidence to the CPS. Since this case began, the local police team in Lincolnshire have reported that the incidence of such crimes in the area has decreased dramatically.

In the second case (R v Mitchell and Oakley), two men admitted to stealing artefacts from Baylham Roman site, in Coddenham, Suffolk. The pair were each given a 24-month conditional discharge, their metal detecting equipment confiscated and ordered to pay £85 costs. A number of other cases are pending, including one that is scheduled to be tried in the Crown Court, where higher penalties are available for consideration upon conviction. The fact that agencies are cooperating and working in partnership to combat illicit metal detecting and other aspects of heritage crime represents a major step forward.

English Heritage, in collaboration with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the CPS, has developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which Local Authorities are signing up to in increasing numbers (at the time of writing some 14 had become signatories). All of these bodies have statutory responsibilities for aspects of the fight against heritage crime. In the case of Local Authorities they are one of a number of the key 'responsible bodies' having an important role in local Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs). Under Sections 5-7 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, CSPs have a statutory duty to 'work together to develop and implement strategies to protect their local communities from crime and to help people feel safe' [and] 'work with others who have a key role, including community groups'. By incorporating heritage crime issues into the remit of CSPs there is a ready-made network of agencies and groups who can assist each other in combating the problem as part of their existing work.

The Heritage Crime Programme has been identified as a discrete activity within the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP) (Activity 2B2) with a resource allocation. With respect to heritage crime four key issues have been identified:

These issues are deliberately high level to allow those on the ground in different areas to apply them in the most appropriate way locally. The first two issues are clearly relevant to illicit detecting, but in addition the ACPO Metal Theft Working Group, which is primarily concerned with the theft of cabling and other infrastructure-related materials and, in a historic environment context, the theft of lead and other metals from historic buildings, has incorporated illicit metal detecting within its remit. In a way, that incorporation of illicit metal detecting within a wider remit emphasises the basis of most current approaches to crime against the historic environment, which is in essence inclusive and wide-ranging rather being tightly focused on narrow issues.

English Heritage, and the other signatories to the MoU, are working within the framework of the National Intelligence Model (NIM), which the Police and CSPs are required to use. The NIM ensures that all partners are providing and using data in setting priorities and focusing and justifying resources in the face of increasing pressures on budgets and people. However, the various agencies and official bodies are only part of the picture; key to the success of the heritage crime work within CSPs, as well as more generally, are the much wider group of organisations and the large numbers of individuals who are concerned by the impact of nighthawking and other aspects of heritage crime.

In recognition of the crucial role of the wider Historic Environment Sector English Heritage has led the development of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH). ARCH is a

'voluntary national network which will take forward initiatives to tackle heritage crime and galvanise local action as part of the Heritage Crime Programme … Through conferences and training events, the group will be a means of discussing priorities, sharing information about heritage crime, carrying out training, highlighting best practice and making local contacts'.

The membership of ARCH, which stood at 150 in September 2012, is wide and varied, including police services, local souncils, major landowning organisations such as the National Trust, as well as archaeological and historical socities and the National Council for Metal Detecting. Long before they joined ARCH the NCMD, through their Conditions of Membership had required all members 'to be free from conviction for any criminal offence relating to metal detecting activities.'

NCMD Officers have indicated that they will remove from membership anyone who is convicted of a detecting-related offence. That position and the very public alignment with those in the wider Heritage Sector demonstrated by their membership of ARCH serves to suggest increasing isolation of those criminals who seek to use metal detectors to loot archaeological sites and landscapes.


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