Code on forged art to be issued

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A CODE intended to protect art lovers who mistakenly buy forged or stolen works is to be unveiled by the Home Office.

Paul Boateng, minister for Crime Reduction and the Police, will give details next month of a due diligence code, which will help duped buyers to make insurance or compensation claims for works of art that have to be returned to their rightful owners.

The code has been brought in to reform a market that depends largely on cash transactions and which some art experts denounced last night as "medieval". Its introduction follows the jailing this week of John Drewe for masterminding the biggest fraud in contemporary art this century.

Drewe flooded the international art market with works in the style of Alberto Giacometti, Ben Nicholson, Jean Dubuffet and Nicholas de Stael. He went to extraordinary lengths to provide histories, or provenances, for his works.

The new code, featured in this week's Law Society Gazette, has been drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers in conjunction with the Council for the Prevention of Art Theft. It follows a 12-month pilot project.

Under the guidelines, art buyers will be advised to establish the identity and address of the seller and request a "paper trail" of documents to support the artefact's sales history. They will also be advised to make checks with registers of stolen art and pay by cheque.

Robin Fry, a council director, said the code would help to modernise the art market. "At the moment people take more care in buying a lock- up garage in Southend than on the purchase of a piece of art costing pounds 250,000. The art market is still operating the way it did 300 years ago," he said.