Courts in England and Wales will now consider the full impact of criminal damage on heritage buildings, including theatres, when sentencing offenders.
Campaign body the Theatres Trust has welcomed the “increased deterrent” to offenders, arguing that arson attacks and theft are “all too common” in empty theatres.
New guidelines, which come into effect on October 1, highlight that damage to historic buildings can destroy unique parts of the country’s history and that this damage should be taken into account during the sentencing process.
While some judges may already take this into account, existing guidelines do not officially advise this and focus mainly on the economic impact of the crime.
A spokeswoman for the Sentencing Council, which published the new guidelines, said it would not be possible to measure the impact of the guidelines on the severity of sentences until they come into effect.
The guidelines apply to both magistrates and Crown courts and for offences including arson and criminal damage.
Theatres adviser at the Theatres Trust Tom Stickland said: “We welcome increased deterrents that prevent serious damage to historic buildings.
“Heritage crime is a huge concern and it is all too common for empty theatres to be victims of theft or arson.
“Several theatres on our Theatres at Risk Register have been affected, including the fire at Burnley Empire and theft of metal from the roof of Morecambe Winter Gardens. Thankfully in both these cases the damage was not irreparable but it is adding extra costs to restoration projects.”
Stickland added: “Heritage crime can result in buildings being made unsafe or, worse, completely destroyed.”
Other theatres that have been hit by suspected arson attacks include Derby Hippodrome and the Harlequin Puppet Theatre in North Wales.
Historic England also welcomed the new guidelines. Its head of heritage crime strategy Mark Harrison said: “England’s heritage can’t be valued purely in economic terms.
“The impact of criminal damage and arson to our historic buildings and archaeological sites has far-reaching consequences over and above what has been damaged or lost.”