Belfast Telegraph

Talks address heritage site crimes

Fears that organised crime gangs could be involved in thefts and arson attacks on historic buildings in Northern Ireland are to be examined after a top-level summit on the issue.

UK Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he would be contacting the Republic's government, as well as seeking the support of police on both sides of the border, over the concerns.

The issue was one of a number raised as Mr Attwood led a meeting of experts in the field for discussions that followed a string of attacks on important sites in Northern Ireland.

The Heritage Crime Summit held in Hillsborough Court House in Co Down heard from Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, policing and crime advisor to English Heritage.

Mr Attwood later said: "There may be issues on the island of Ireland about organised crime involvement.

"There is good evidence in Britain. We need to be very aware that there could be an interest from organised crime."

The minister said gangs could be stealing from buildings and causing extensive damage in the process.

He said he will be contacting his government counterpart in the Republic, plus Stormont Justice Minister David Ford, with a view to seeking guidance from the Gardai and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on the scale of criminal involvement.

Mr Harrison told the conference: "Heritage is a finite resource. Once it's gone it is gone. We are temporary guardians so we need to do right for future generations."

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