Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Metropolitan Police's revived Art and Antiquities squad

The Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiquities squad is to be revived under the leadership of Detective sergeant Rob Upham
As revealed by ATG last month, detective sergeant Rob Upham will take up the post which has been vacant since Claire Hutcheon left in March 2016. The art crime unit temporarily closed in June with its three officers reassigned to other work including the Grenfell Tower investigation.  
Alarmist voices were raised about the threatened 'disappearance' of this dedicated unit, potentially leaving one of the world's largest antiquities markets unpoliced. Here is James Ratcliffe ('Bring back the Met’s art and antiquities squad', Apollo Magazine 19th Sept 2017):
The unit has been doing vital work, coordinating efforts to tackle art crime generally, but also leading in more specific areas such as the fight against the illicit antiquities trade. It goes without saying that any closure, temporary or permanent, must hinder those efforts. Art crime requires specialist policing: that is why the unit was created. [...] They maintained relationships across the globe, acted as the point of contact for international enquiries via Interpol, and used their database to register items reported to them via other UK forces. During their hiatus those international links will be falling away, and matters referred by Interpol from abroad will end up handled by the local force. This would be bad enough, but when you consider that UNESCO has, within the past year, established funds and special measures to prevent terrorist organisations profiting from the trafficking of antiquities, the decision to suspend the activities of the unit looks even more foolhardy. If such concerns are justified, even in part, then surely the unit must be reinstated urgently as one of the few ways to tackle that trade insofar as it affects, or may come to affect, the UK. The vigilance with which the unit has monitored the antiquities trade in London and the South East can only be a deterrent. This is not the first time such a unit has been closed. It already happened once at the Met, in 1984, but following pressure from the market and international authorities it was resurrected by Dick Ellis in 1989. It happened in the Netherlands in 2002, where the department was also reopened a few years later. Any closure must result in the loss of records, expertise, and relationships. That can be costly, and sometimes impossible, to recover [...] , to simply draw to a close the work of an entire unit, specialising in the policing of a complex but valuable part of our national economy, must be wrong. Whether the unit returns to duty or not, this should be a wake-up call. All of those with a link to the sector need to consider what can be done to ensure that one of the foremost art markets in the world is not left without adequate policing.
Fortunately it is back, for the moment, and let us hope that it helps to keep illicit material off the UK antiquities market. That includes artefacts from illegal artefact hunting in the UK.

Vignette:Metropolitan police HQ

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