Bronze Age axe. Copyright Historic England

The Application of Forensic Science to Heritage and Cultural Crime

Kevin Lawton-Barrett, Senior Lecturer has been working with Historic England for several years on the application of forensic science to heritage and cultural crime. In February 2017 he joined the National Heritage and Cultural Property Group.


Metal theft, St Peter's Church, Plemstall, Cheshire. Copyright Diocese of Chester.

Criminals intent on converting metal into cash do not see the damage, loss or heartache they cause to communities, they simply see a commodity that will provide a financial benefit. This form of criminality is not limited to protected sites and buildings but includes the theft of cultural objects and artefacts.

Two angles of attack, related to forensic investigation, can be employed to assist:

  1. Making use of advances in technology such as forensic marking, lead isotopes and environmental profiling which can help prevent and detect crime and reduce the attractiveness of stealing lead from buildings or illegally removing items from historically significant shipwrecks.
  2. Re-examining well known archaeological and forensic techniques and applying them creatively to problems associated with heritage crime scenes and suspects.

One of eight illegally recovered bronze canons. From the case of R v Knight and Huzzey. Copyright: Maritime and Coastguards Agency.

The work includes providing training material on the value of good crime scene preservation to 16,000 churches in the UK. It is hoped that enhanced crime scene preservation will provide more evidence for retrieval by Crime Scene Investigators.

Academic research and the development of new technologies can also help improve the ease with which intelligence and offences are reported to law enforcement bodies; there is also potential to develop a range of smartphone applications to law enforcement professionals and members of the public to record details of crimes or incidents within the historic and cultural environment.

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Last edited: 15/12/2018 11:42:00