Byline: Tony Henderson
THE North East's proud historical attractions are to be protected from vandals, looters and yobs by the creation of a new anti-crime network.
Under the guidance of English Heritage, police and the Crown Prosecution Service, a system is being developed to clamp down on offences such as architectural theft, including metal stealing, criminal damage, illegal metal detecting, graffiti, vehicle nuisance and arson.
An English Heritage study of the problem of illegal metal detecting suggests that the problem is growing and reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg.
Metal theft from churches is also a serious issue, with the number of insurance claims in 2010 being 20 times as many as in 2005.
Representatives from more than 40 organisations, ranging from the National Trust, Church of England, Crime Stoppers and Ministry of Defence to national parks, the Woodland Trust and The Historic Houses Association have met to discuss the formation of the Alliance for the Reduction of Crime against Heritage (ARCH).
There are many vulnerable sites across the North East that have suffered from incidences of heritage crime.
The Dunston Staiths on the Tyne is a scheduled monument and a prominent timber structure on the riverfront, representing the area's coal industry hey day. Since its closure in 1980 Dunston Staiths has suffered from arson attacks - 8% of the monument was lost in one blaze in 2003. English Heritage has been working with the owners - Tyne Wear Building Preservation Trust - Gateshead Council and police and the fire service to find a solution to the situation.
Peter Mole, Gateshead Council cabinet member for community safety, said: "The historic Dunston coal staiths suffered irreparable damage by arsonists in 2003, which means that this important structure - which is both a scheduled ancient monument and a listed building, and is thought to be the largest wooden structure in Europe - can never again be enjoyed as the elegant and dramatic structure it once was.
"The damage to this vast structure shows just how vulnerable our built heritage can be to criminal attack - and how serious the consequences. …