Look out, art thieves: museums are fighting back
New organisation set up after high-profile thefts will let galleries share information instantly
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Sunday 17 February 2013
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.
Books And it is whizzpopping!
MusicThey're running their own restaurants
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Dentist who illegally killed Cecil the lion blames local guides for the scandal
- 2 Kate Winslet thanked 'particularly horrible' girl who bullied her at school after Titanic success
- 3 Norwich paedophile ring: Woman at centre of gang who made children 'sexual play things' guilty of 23 offences
- 4 Black and ethnic minority people twice as likely to be hit by Tory cuts than white people, report finds
- 5 Walter Palmer: American dentist revealed as the killer of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe
New on Netflix August 2015: From Narcos and Spellbound to Kick Ass 2 and Dinotrux
Listen! Beowulf opening line misinterpreted for 200 years
Heath Ledger's father reveals dead actor's 'Joker diary' written during The Dark Knight
Game of Thrones season 6: New toy line suggests Jon Snow is not among the dead
Spectre: Ellie Goulding is almost definitely singing the theme song to the next Bond film
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
The last thing Labour needs is a leader like Jeremy Corbyn who people want to vote for
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government