Police to develop national strategy for tackling heritage crime - Museums Association

Police to develop national strategy for tackling heritage crime

Market in stolen art and artefacts worth £300m a year
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) is leading a new working group that will spearhead a national policing response to heritage and cultural property crime in the UK.

Launched this week, the taskforce will include cultural sector representatives such as English Heritage, Arts Council England and the British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme, as well as the police, the newly established National Crime Agency and other law enforcement professionals.

It has been tasked with creating a joined-up strategy to combat the UK’s growing problem of anti-social behaviour and crime against cultural property and the historic environment.

The strategy is likely to recommend the creation of a national policing unit for heritage and cultural property crime, as well as dedicated liaison officers in each local force.

Other recommendations will include establishing a nationwide intelligence database to collate information and analyse trends; creating a “one stop shop” website to share crime prevention resources and advice; and boosting public awareness by encouraging people to become heritage and cultural property champions in their communities.

Chief constable Andy Bliss, who is chairing the working group, said in a statement: “In economically challenging times we have already seen that criminals have adapted, seeking opportunities to profit from vulnerabilities in these sectors…

"The working group will provide a point of focus and visible leadership around the national policing response to heritage and cultural property crime.”

Acpo has produced a strategic assessment to inform the working group’s decision-making. The document gives an overview of strengths and vulnerabilities in the current policing response, and identifies future threats and opportunities.

The assessment reports that profits from the theft of art and antiques by organised gangs total over £300m a year in the UK - second only to drug dealing. Only around 10% of stolen art and cultural objects are recovered, and conviction rates are lower still.

It also shows that organised crime gangs are becoming increasingly aware that cultural property theft has a “significantly higher return... with a much lower associated risk” than other criminal activity, and are using the internet to identify both targets and marketplaces for stolen objects.

Recent high-profile cases include the burglary of oriental objects from the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2012 and last month’s theft of a Henry Moore sculpture from an outdoor sculpture park in Scotland.

The strategic assessment can be downloaded here (pdf)

  • Look out for a feature on heritage crime in next month’s issue of Museums Journal

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