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
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific