Art market scandal: British Museum expert highlights growing problem of fake antiquities

Most of the antiquities on sale in Britain are either stolen or fakes, a leading museum scientist has told a national conference on art crime.

Paul Craddock, a scientist at the British Museum whose work involves checking the authenticity of artefacts, said international legislation had so far "proved toothless" at fighting the burgeoning problem.

"The amount of legitimate material on the market is very, very small," Dr Craddock said. "Most antiquities on the market nowadays are either stolen or forgeries."

The claim ­ at a conference in London organised by the Fraud Advisory Panel ­ could prove highly damaging to the lucrative London market.

The British art market is believed to be worth more than £500m a year and in 2000 the Metropolitan Police alone seized £22m worth of stolen or faked antiquities.

Looting ­ a problem dating back centuries ­ is also a modern phenomenon, as demonstrated by the widespread theft of artefacts after the invasion of Iraq two years ago.

Dr Craddock's comments prompted protests from some of the dozens of delegates. Ros Wright, chairman of the Fraud Advisory Panel, established by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, said: "I'm sure that nobody does take away the impression that all art on the market is suspect."

Art and auction houses in London have spent several years tightening security and the Cultural Objects Offences Act of 2003 made it illegal to trade in goods thought to be tainted. Auction houses are as liable as banks for making sure that they are not being used to launder suspect money and figures from the Art Loss Register, the London-based company with a database of 160,000 stolen items, suggest the number of stolen works being sold at auction has fallen.

But Dr Craddock insisted the scale of the problem was such that he would want clear evidence of an object's history before he bought anything himself.

He cited the example of an unnamed American heiress who amassed a sizeable collection of Middle Eastern jewellery in just two years. When it was taken to a museum, most of it was shown to be fake.

One of the most famous fakes acquired by the British Museum was the Crystal Skull, supposedly an Aztec symbol of death, bought in 1897. Recent analysis showed it was cut and polished with a type of rotating wheel used in 19th century Europe.

Alexandra Smith, of the Art Loss Register, said the scale of looting was shrouded in mystery. "It is terribly difficult to tell how many works of art are stolen because a lot of people never report the theft," she said. "One museum abroad was recently reported to have lost 300 paintings, but failed to tell anyone because they were so embarrassed."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'