The text accompanying Simon Cox's 38 minute 'File on Four' radio documentary tonight about Syrian antiquities (Simon Cox, 'The men who smuggle the loot that funds IS' BBC, 17 February 2015) ends with a discussion of the trade in such objects in the UK.
It was a common refrain. Everyone from the Lebanese police to Mohammed the smuggler and Ahmed the go-between said the main market was Europe. In the UK there have been no prosecutions or arrests for selling looted Syrian artefacts but Vernon Rapley, who ran the Metropolitan Police's art and antiquities squad for almost a decade, says too much shouldn't be read into this. "I'm quite confident that there have been seizures of material like this," he confidently states, as we stroll around his new workplace, the Victoria and Albert museum, where he is director of security. Rapley still liaises closely with his former police unit and he is certain that artefacts from Syria are being sold here. He wants the trade in these antiquities to become "socially repugnant and unacceptable" so that in the future, he says, "we don't have interior decorators looking for these things to decorate people's houses".I think that is what we all want. The no questions asked trade in any dugup antiquities in today's market is irresponsible, repugnant and should be socially unacceptable. Let us hope documentaries like this start to change public attitudes.