Memorandum submitted by the Minister of
State for the Home Office
(i) What is the policy of the Home Office
on international criminal assistance in cases of stolen cultural
property which have crossed international borders and may have
entered the United Kingdom?
(i) The UK approaches co-operation with
criminal investigations and proceedings in other jurisdictions
relating to stolen cultural property in the same way as it does
any other offence. In addition to the usual co-operation between
the UK and overseas police forces investigating crimes, Interpol
has a database, the "Crigen/arts database", which carries
written descriptions and scanned images of stolen cultural property.
UK police forces regularly access the database when they are informed
of cultural property having been stolen, or when they recover
unidentified cultural property.
(ii) What is the role of the UK Central Authority
in such cases?
(ii) The role of the UKCA is to respond
to requests from countries abroad for assistance in criminal investigations
or criminal proceedings relating to the theft of, or illegal export
of, cultural property. In the same way where property has left
the UK illicitly we may also instigate requests from overseas
for legal help in recovering it.
Under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation)
Act 1990, the UKCA can arrange for evidence to be obtained through
the Magistrates' Courts for use in criminal proceedings abroad.
This might be a witness statement, banking evidence or other documentation,
for example records from auction houses. It can also arrange for
search and seizure of premises, provided that the request satisfies
the requirements of the Act (and of PACE in the context of the
Act). This would not be possible in the case of illegally exported
items, though, because it is not an offence to import them into
this country. It is worth noting that any cultural property seized
in the course of such action would be seized as evidence in the
case, and not for the purpose of returning it to its lawful owner.
It would of course be returned to the lawful owner at the conclusion
of the case.
If appropriate, UKCA can also arrange for a
prisoner to be temporarily transferred to another jurisdiction
to give evidence in a trial concerning the theft of cultural property.
In addition to initiating the coercive measures
described above, the Authority could also refer a request to a
police force for preliminary investigations or to have voluntary
Where necessary, the UKCA will liaise with the
regional prosecutors of other jurisdictions to arrange for police
officers or prosecutors from those jurisdictions to visit the
UK in connection with criminal investigations and proceedings.
It also liaises with the Metropolitan Police
Art and Antiques Squad over particular cases, and with the auction
houses where necessary.
It has contributed to bilateral meetings and
specialist seminars to promote an awareness of how the UK can
help in investigations and proceedings relating to stolen cultural
(iii) What is the role and policy of the Home
Office in promoting actions to prevent the sale of stolen cultural
(iii) The Home Office welcomes and encourages
initiatives which support operational policing requirements by
improving the prospects that stolen property will be identified
and recovered. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary are
discussing with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the
Operations Faculty ways of raising awareness amongst police forces
of the functions of the Art Loss Register. The Operations Faculty
based at the Police Training College at Bramshill (which sits
within the remit of the Assocation of Chief Police Officers General
Purposes Committee) provides a national focus for the exchange
of information on operational issues, the promulgation of good
practice and access to specialist advice. It maintains and promotes
the National Operations Faculty database. Following a meeting
in March this year, an entry has now been included in the database
on the role of the Art Loss Register which can be accessed by
all police forces in England and Wales. In this way individual
police forces can be made aware of the potential benefits of accessing
the Art Loss Register to support the detection of crime.
(iv) What is the policy of the Home Office
and what guidance is issued on resources of police forces in England
and Wales devoted to issues relating to cultural property and,
in particular, what is the policy in relation to the Art and Antiques
Squad of the Metropolitan Police Service?
(iv) The role of the Government is to allocate
funding to police force areas as a whole. It is then a matter
for the police authority to set a budget and for the Chief Constable
to determine how the resources should be used, taking local views
into account wherever possible. By the same principle it is an
operational matter for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
to decide what resources should be allocated to the Art and Antiques
(v) What is the policy of the Home Office
on the possible development of a central police database relating
to(a) stolen cultural property; (b) cultural property illicitly
exported from its country of origin; (c) cultural property subject
to claims relating to wrongful taking in the Nazi period?
(v) The Police National Computer has an
existing stolen property database, which is accessible online
by all UK police forces. It can only be used to record stolen
property that has some form of unique identifier/serial number
associated with it. It is therefore not appropriate for works
of art or other cultural property. The Home Office provides substantial
resources for the development of police computing, particularly
through the Police National Computer and its applications. Hitherto
the provision of a database specifically devoted to the recording
of stolen or illicitly exported cultural property has not been
regarded as being of such operational value that it should receive
priority in the allocation of the available funding. One alternative
possibility is to further develop the police relationship with
the Art Loss Register (see question iii above), thus bringing
together expertise in fine arts and crime investigation. We will
consult the Association of Chief Police Officers for its views
on the way forward.