Sussex Police Heritage Crimes Unit

Story: Daryl Holter
Photography: Daryl Holter
Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Heritage Crime

My name is Daryl Holter, I’m a Police Community Support Officer, Heritage Crime Officer and Advisor based in Hastings, Sussex. I have worked for Sussex Police since 2003. I grew up with a passion for history, so helping to protect our nation’s heritage is second nature to me. Therefore, over the last six years I have become increasingly involved in preventing and investigating heritage crime.

What is Heritage Crime?

Heritage crime is any offence which harms the value of England's heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations.

To many criminals historic buildings, churches, houses, castles, forts, earthworks, battlefields, wreck sites and other historic sites are simply sources of illicit gain, damage or diversion. These heritage assets are often exploited with no regard to what they may represent to the communities in which they are located. Those who for instance are knowingly buying stolen scrap metal or stolen relics from heritage assets are creating a market which is driving heritage crime. Some of these buildings have been around for hundreds of years, surviving world wars and the elements of time and nature but are now being spoiled by us. There are several reasons behind these crimes: greed, selfishness, sheer wanton vandalism, a misguided self-belief of saving our heritage and simply unknowingly committing offences.

Churches are often a victim to heritage crime. Offertory boxes, for example, are forced open or stolen for the donations they may contain, lead is indiscriminately pulled up off roofs, tiles and stonework taken or stained-glass windows removed. All are testament to the skills of medieval craftsmen, and many are stolen or smashed beyond repair - destroying in a moment something that has been familiar to and appreciated by generations.

These crimes often damage the very fabric of the building, their impact is immeasurable, as, even though items might be restored or replaced, the link to the past has gone forever. Heritage crime can have a devastating impact on local communities, far outweighing the material loss suffered.

Another factor is provenance, or the sequence of events in the life of a historical object). This is key; if items are stolen or removed it will not only affect us today, it will affect future generations understanding our past. When items are illicitly removed and not recorded, essentially a piece of our history is stolen. Linked to this are those crimes which are unknowingly committed and pose a great threat to our heritage, especially when theft also results in damage. An example of this might be illicit metal detecting or unauthorised off-road driving on sites of historical and archaeological importance. Both have impact on archaeology and artefacts, not only are items removed but their context is destroyed. The result is an irreplaceable loss of information.

Heritage crime can be organized and be carried out by an individual or group. This area of crime can be difficult to pre-empt, and it underlines the need for constant vigilance on the part of everyone to whom such things are important.

I work with many partner agencies and authorities to enable me to deal with reports efficiently and with the most impact. The expertise of these partners helps me to address issues comprehensively. We all have different tools at our disposal, and where one may not be able to deal with an issue, generally another can. It is through our combined strengths that we are most effective.

Understanding heritage and how it sits within the local community, combined with education, prevention, engagement and support can help save our shared heritage. I support volunteers, local groups, museums and societies who work tirelessly to preserve our heritage. We are all one community.

There are many actions that need to be completed when a report is received. Here are some examples:

Once a report of this nature is received it is vital that all partners are communicating and making informed decisions in a timely manner.

Consideration for media press releases, this can be useful as an appeal for information and alerting neighbouring heritage assets.

An example of my work supporting heritage sites:

Heritage Eastbourne has received a £350 boost from Sussex Police thanks to heritage crime officer Daryl Holter. PCSO Holter was able to secure the grant from the Police Property Act Fund, made up of monies received by the police from property confiscated by order of the court and then sold. PCSO Holter said “I am really happy to help Heritage Eastbourne. Jo and his team offer fantastic opportunities to the residents of Eastbourne and surrounds. “Education and understanding is vital for people to be involved in their local heritage. And from a heritage crime point-of-view the more people know of the history around them the better protected it is. “Awareness, and raising the profile of heritage crime, is a key part of my role”. Heritage Eastbourne offers free education around local heritage and archaeology. Its manager, Jo Seaman, said, “We will be using the funding for educational equipment, books, literature, portfolio folders and guides. “We will also be purchasing recording equipment such as graphic pens, drawing boards, acetone, permatrace and paraloid. All of these items assist with the research and the recording of finds.”

Full article:

I work very closely with museums, especially Bexhill Museum, Heritage Eastbourne and Worthing Museum, they often help me with understanding the importance of heritage sites and the identification of artefacts and finds. Bexhill Museum is a great local seaside museum, I am always looking at new objects and displays when I visit, and I love the variety of quirky and interesting objects which can span millennia. I’m also a big fan of being able to engage with our history, sometimes having the opportunity to touch, smell and listen to artefacts is brilliant. I am privileged to be able to go “behind the scenes “and nose through the roller stacking and occasionally get to see some wonderful items, including a torc whilst at Worthing museum. The torc, a neck ornament, is dated to the middle Bronze Age (1400 BC) and associated with a settlement near Cisbbury just north of Worthing.

I am also invited along to museum guided tours and archaeological digs, this is a great way for me to be able to talk about heritage crime and meet new people whilst understanding our history.

Another benefit from working so closely with museums is that I can use their facilities to hold talks and events, I am fortunate that all the museums I have worked alongside are incredibly supporting of my role.

I hope this provides a better understanding of a role within policing which is crucial to keeping our heritage safe. I further hope that this will inspire others to increase cohesion between partners and communities to reduce heritage crime.

Please report all heritage crime at the time on 101 or 999 or alternatively you can contact Crime stoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

We have a choice to defend our heritage, past, present and future. Some take our past heritage for granted; some forget it is amongst our present. We walk on it, drive through it and fly over it. To many I have met it inspires belief, understanding, feeling, depth, culture and emotion. A sense of community, ownership, tradition and belonging. It is tangible, it has mystery, it is constant and priceless. When it falls victim to abuse it is all our moral responsibility to protect our past. It is our future generations that should have opportunity to rediscover, enjoy, experience and interpret the old and the new. We are but custodians of a rich heritage that tells of our journey. Together describes the action needed to preserve our past. Together bonds us as a community, a group or a family. Communities are what hold us together, they watch over our heritage.

Mainly Museums is a crowdsourced blog

we need YOU

Check out our open opportunities: