Look out, art thieves: museums are fighting back

New organisation set up after high-profile thefts will let galleries share information instantly

Should criminals attempt to lift a valuable Chinese artefact from a museum display case, or scrawl over a priceless painting, their photograph now could be with the police and 800 cultural institutions in 20 minutes.

A new national organisation has been set up to allow museums and galleries to share their experiences of criminal behaviour with the police and each other, as they look to beef up security in the wake of ongoing threats to their collections.

A spate of high-profile thefts and vandalised work has left cultural institutions across the UK “on edge”, according to Vernon Rapley, the driving force behind the National Museum Security Group (NMSG), which has a reach of 800 institutions.

The group met for the first time on Tuesday in London. Representatives from about 70 institutions based around the country discussed threats facing galleries, museums, libraries and archaeological sites – and what they could do to protect themselves.

Mr Rapley, the head of security and services at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, described the group as a “self-circulating co-operative”, adding: “If the police authorities wanted to contact everyone in the museum security business in the UK they could do it at the touch of a button.”

The idea builds upon the cultural network which was put in place in anticipation of the Olympics last year. With the help of a software company called Facewatch, the NMSG has developed a website where arts organisations can report crimes to the police, share photographs of suspects, upload CCTV and share intelligence.

“As far as I’m aware we’re the only group in the world, certainly in the cultural sector, that can do that. We can have a theft in the morning and within 20 minutes we can have the image at 800 museums in the UK,” added Mr Rapley, who joined the V&A in 2010 from Scotland Yard, where he was head of the art and antiques squad.

The V&A is behind the initiative and has pledged to back it for three years, but hopes more cultural institutions will contribute as they feel the benefits. The London Museum Security Group, a similar body set up in 2006 which Mr Rapley worked on, was a contributing factor to art crime falling 80 per cent in the following two years.

Galleries and museums are on high alert after the recent vandalism of a painting by Mark Rothko in Tate Modern, as well as the heist of seven paintings, including works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse, taken from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam.

Mr Rapley said: “Can we do a great deal? Yes. We can circulate information about that person and the method. Unfortunately crimes like vandalism are almost impossible to stop. But at least we’re aware of it.”

The inaugural meeting of the NMSG included presentations by V&A director Martin Roth and his counterpart at the National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne, as well as by representatives of the Tate and the British Museum.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum