Crime against Museums: Prevention and detection
A presentation by DC Sophie Hayes and DC Ray Swan
It was fascinating, scary and inspiring in equal measure hearing about the work of the investigating cultural heritage crime. Although the Met Police’s art and antiques unit operate within the London foot print. Their impact and reach is felt far further if a stolen item, forgery or fraud has origins within London.
Collaborative working across not only police forces, museums, galleries, dealers, private
collectors and places that buy and sell antiques is vital in the work that they do.
- Cultural heritage theft
- Forgeries and associated fraud
Some items are more vulnerable to theft and portability of the item is key. The founding of
the unit came about in 1968 due to a high proportion of philatelic collections being
targeted. Stamps are incredibly easy to sell on due to their size and peoples desire to have
rare stamps within collections.
The internet and online market places have enabled stolen items and forgeries to be
passed on more easily.
What can we do to prevent a crime taking place?
It may sound simplistic but keeping up to date records including photographs and film of
item including unique markings and any changes. An item is most vulnerable to theft and
damage when it is being moved between two locations so it important to also document
Criminal networks that are involved in heritage theft are often involved in other criminal
activity. These groups are highly organised and may well be involved with forgery and
Replica items only become illegal when there is an attempt to represent them as original
items. These criminal gangs will then offer the items to private collectors and also to
Museums. This can include planting documents in archives and databases to create a
false provenance for an item and creating realistic documents.
Assume nothing- just because someone looks unassuming and is perfectly charming
doesn’t make them incapable of criminal activity. Believe no one- question everything, if it
doesn’t feel right say no and contact the Police if you suspect criminal activity is taking
place. Check everything and take your time- if you feel pressured to make decision, they
maybe more to it than meets the eye.