Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 240 - 248)



  240. The work that you do with the British police force, you work with a number of police forces throughout the rest of the world, how do we compare?
  (Mr Radcliffe) We have a very much smaller art and antiques squad in the centre than most other countries. Italy has 120, we have three or whatever in Scotland Yard so we are not putting much in the way of resources into it. In the rest of the country there has been a significant reduction in the number of policemen specialising in art and antiques. There are several reasons for this. It is not a Key Performance Indicator in the Chief Constable's report. Tenure has meant that you have to move people frequently in the police, they cannot go in the same job for more than four years. Art and antiques requires great specialisation. There has been a significant reduction in the overall police resource in this area.

Mrs Golding

  241. You seem to have a very small number of staff for the extensive work that you do. Do you think that if there are better laws there will be a need to expand your staff? The other question is how do you finance the work that you do?
  (Mr Radcliffe) To deal with the staff numbers first, we have a total staff of 20 between London, New York and Germany. We do 300,000 searches a year with that number of staff as well as all our other work of liaison, marketing, finance and so on. We expect to be able to raise the number of searches from 300,000 a year at the moment to a million without raising the number of staff anything like pro rata. The reason for that is that the Internet gives us the ability to allow dealers, collectors and so on to search the database, not to browse it, to check exactly what is on it and outwit it but if they are buying a clock they will go to the database and see examples of stolen clocks and recovered clocks. They will say they want to search for a clock, down will come a screen in front of them and they fill in the screen with the details of the clock they want to buy. If it is absolutely clear and clean, nothing like that on the database, they get an automatic search certificate. However, if it is close to anything on the database there will be a manual intervention by our staff because that is the time that we have to provide the added value and make certain that the item does not walk away when it is a potential recovery. Our staff may go up but not pro rata and we can handle a million searches. How do we finance ourselves? 60 per cent of our revenue comes from the insurance industry giving us subscriptions per insurance company and we take a percentage on successful recoveries, ten to 15 per cent. The remainder of our revenue comes from the art trade who pay significant sums to search items which they are buying or are going to sell.

Mr Keen

  242. Could you give us an example of what happens when you do discover that an item is stolen? What procedure usually happens?
  (Mr Radcliffe) Yes. Let us say we have an auction catalogue from an auction house, we are searching the item and it comes up as stolen. The first thing we have to do is to check with the person who registers it that it has not been recovered and now is being innocently sold again, because sometimes people do not tell us when they recover. We go to the original person and say "Have you recovered this", no they have not. Obviously they are pleased to hear we may have found it and there is then some very detailed work to check that really is the item which is registered with us. We would notify the police where the original theft took place, notify the police which is closest to the auction house, work with the auction house and then, very often, we conduct the negotiations to get the item back to the insurer or back to the original owner. That may require us to do a lot of work with the consignor, work back down through the line of where the consignor bought it because we are trying to make clear to the rest of the trade that they should have checked earlier on in the chain and then they would not now be in this problem.

  243. It is clear, obviously, the reason why you have not got an open database is because dealers would look and say "It is bit of a database, we can do what we like with it". What percentage of the total items that are on the list, it must be very, very small, point something of a per cent, are the total existing artifacts in the world, it must be tiny?
  (Mr Radcliffe) Yes, tiny.

  244. Is there any increase in collections going on to the Internet, people who have legitimate collections and want to show them and want the public to have access to them? Is that growing very quickly? What developments have there been?
  (Mr Radcliffe) Yes. I think there is a big change in the culture, or whatever the right word is, of people's attitude to collecting and to the development. In the past, secrecy, confidentiality, discretion and so on were very, very high priorities of people who either inherited or built up collections. Now I think there is more of a feeling that people wish other people to be able to enjoy and appreciate what somebody has collected. The Internet does give the ability for people to make that available for other people to study without necessarily giving away where it is being held. We are very interested in that because we see great opportunities from our positive database of ownership, and indeed from the negative database of stolen items, for licensing out images, for example, on behalf of the people who own those items. This is subject to all the laws of the Copyright and the Artist's Rights and so forth. We think the Internet does give great opportunity for wider enjoyment of items which have been collected.

  245. It would be surprising if in one hundred years we do not know where everything is, we will know what it is even if we do not know where it is being held. A hundred years, yes, but will we get to that point in ten years' time?
  (Mr Radcliffe) I am not sure whether we will get it in ten years' time but we believe that within the next ten years our positive database of ownership of items not stolen, not in any way with a claim on them but clearly owned and probably insured but maybe not, will be hundreds of times the size of our stolen database.

  246. Maybe I can educate myself better in this culture. One final thing, you mentioned about the tenure, as one who has argued with the Metropolitan Police about tenure to stop the beat bobbies being shifted away, is it true that the police shift people with expertise in this business, they shift them on the basis of tenure, is that true?
  (Mr Radcliffe) Yes. The origin of this was some of the corruption trials in the past where an individual in a very specialist area, particularly in close contact with criminals, has to build up a relationship with those individuals if they are informers and it is very easy for the trading of information backwards and forwards to begin to cause corruption. That is the origin of it. There is no easy solution to it.


  247. The Government has established a Spoliation Advisory Panel to consider claims for objects in museums. Are you advocating a similar mechanism for private individuals and the art trade?
  (Mr Radcliffe) I refer to you on that one. It sounds to me like a tricky question.
  (Ms Jackson) Yes. By creating this database, this looted art database, this could have the potential to really stick up the art market. It could make the whole thing bogged down basically. Out of interest, we are getting more claims from art dealers or inquiries from art dealers about works of art that may have been looted during the war than we are about items that they believe might have been stolen in the last ten years or last week. What we do not want to do is create a huge problem. What we have been discussing and proposing, perhaps, is that the art trade nominate an individual who can engage in discussion with the claimant advocacy organisations or groups to provide a practical solution to this problem.
  (Mr Radcliffe) If I can give you a parallel. The insurance industry was beset by asbestosis, millions of pounds on legal fees, people dying, not getting their rightful dues, the insurance industry unable to quantify their reserves and liabilities. It was a terrible mess. They went to one man who was Dean of one of the leading American law schools and said "We, the insurance industry and we, the claimant organisations, want to get this problem resolved faster". He produced then the great Wellington Agreement which for the first five years acted as a catalyst to get through published guidelines and case studies, even without names, the practice and procedures in place to make all these private and government claims work through the system faster. We would be prepared to play our part in supporting that.
  (Ms Jackson) One of the complaints we are hearing from the claimants is that once an item is identified with a dealer or in an auction house they are often left to their own devices. They face huge legal bills, nobody to help them, nobody to do the research, so we see this as a possible practical solution to help those claimants which could be used as a blue print or as a model for future applications for claimants in general.

Derek Wyatt

  248. Just one last question. I notice you are in Cologne rather than somewhere like Zurich. If it is true that a lot of this is flushed out in Switzerland, why Cologne and why not Zurich?
  (Mr Radcliffe) In the long term we need to be in all the major art centres of the world, be they exporting or trading. We will need to be in Switzerland, Paris, Rome and so on. We started in Germany because the German Gallery Association, the equivalent of the Art Dealers Association here, volunteered to provide us with a base and to provide us with an exceptional member of their staff to run our operations in Germany. In a way it was just the easiest place to start.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 17 May 2000