Fears rise that WW1 centenary will spark crimewave against memorabilia

Security experts warn that increasing interest has driven up price of medals on online auction sites

Crime Correspondent

The centenary of the First World War is set to trigger a boom in the underworld memorabilia market with thieves targeting museums during four years of high-profile commemorations.

Security experts warned that increasing interest has driven up the price of medals on online auction sites and experts fear that poorly-protected exhibitions, battlefield sites and wrecks are all at risk of plundering for profit.

Many medals from the era are made from silver and the high price of the precious metal – which topped £2,000 an ounce on exchanges earlier this year – is likely to make them targets for criminal gangs.

Museums are likely to put on display artefacts from the Great War in the coming years previously held in storage or archived. Many museums have plans for a rolling series of exhibitions to mark 100 years since the start of the war, major events like the battle of the Somme, and the end of the war.

“The price of first world war medals is going up and criminals are incredibly good at latching on to price increases,” said Vernon Rapley, the head of security at the Victoria and Albert Museum. “Quite a few medals of the time are silver and there are likely to be an increased number of forgeries to do with the First World War.”

Senior police said that top-level organised criminal gangs with contacts across the globe have increasingly moved into the heritage market attracted by the high sums and easy portability of some takings.

The industry warned that television programmes such as the Antiques Roadshow and Cash in the Attic – with its focus on the estimated value of antiques – have attracted the interest of criminals. The industry has estimated that the theft of art and antiques in Britain every year exceeds £300 million with 200 crimes committed against listed buildings across England every day.

“There is an increasing threat that less organised criminals will use more extreme levels of violence to achieve their aims,” according to a threat assessment published yesterday by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

The campaign against the illegal trade – which is second only to the drug trade in terms of proceeds – is hampered by a fragmented system of tracing stolen items. ACPO yesterday (Mon) launched a new strategy in concert with groups like English Heritage with plans for a new national intelligence database.

Det Supt Adrian Green, who is heading a major inquiry into stolen Chinese antiquities, said: “This is top level international organised crime. Once you have logistics and the financial capability, criminals can swap between antiques, firearms trafficking or humans.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot