Museum theft is a growing problem, conference hears

Simon Stephens, 09.11.2012
Session focuses on how to tackle heritage crime
Thefts from museums, galleries and heritage sites is a growing problem, delegates to the Museums Association conference in Edinburgh heard today.

Bill Seaman, assistant head of museums at Norfolk Museums and Archaeology, talked about two recent thefts at Norwich Castle Museum.

An attempt to steal rhino horn was prevented by a staff member who tackled the thieves but the museum did not catch those who stole £36,000 worth of memorabilia related to Lord Nelson.

Seaman said stealing from museums was a particular problem in the East of England, where museums including the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton have been targeted.

Earlier this year, Chinese art worth millions of pounds was stolen from the Fitzwilliam and the £750,000 Wenlok Jug was taken in Luton, although this was recently recovered.

“There is clearly something going on in the East of England with heritage crime,” said Seaman, who pointed out that the museums involved had previously had good track records of preventing thefts.

Rowan Brown, the director of the National Mining Museum Scotland, spoke about crime at her museum, with a particular focus on metal theft.

And Nick Poole, the chief executive of the Collections Trust, talked about the Building Capacity for Museum Security project, which it is delivering for Arts Council England. As part of this the trust is holding a series of regional meetings that begin later this month.