Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 evidence taken.

  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 property.

(iii)  What is the role and policy of the Home Office in promoting actions to prevent the sale of stolen cultural property?

  (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 Squad.

(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.

June 2000

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