Examination of witnesses (Questions 240
TUESDAY 18 APRIL 2000
RADCLIFFE, OBE and MS
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.
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.
242. Could you give us an example of what happens
when you do discover that an item is stolen? What procedure usually
(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
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
(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
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
(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.
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
(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.