Examination of Witnesses (Questions 136-139)|
RADCLIFFE OBE, MR
28 OCTOBER 2003
Q136 Chairman: Gentlemen, welcome
to this inquiry. We have had contacts with you before and indeed
I have had the pleasure of visiting you. Before I call other colleagues,
I would just like to ask you: are we any further forward since
we last saw you?
Mr Radcliffe: I think it is fair
to say that the Government may not have made very much progress,
but I think our three companies continue to make considerable
progress and, in the absence of the Government producing a clear
and agreed policy, we are doing our best and increasingly being
pretty successful in filling the void.
Q137 Chairman: But there is a void?
Mr Radcliffe: Yes, there is definitely
a requirement and we are filling part of it collectively and individually.
It could be filled very much better if the Government agreed with
us as to how to make certain that the rest of the police data
that we do not have came on to our databases or we had a proper
partnership with the Government.
Q138 Chairman: In view of the fact
that you yourself have said that it could be done better by the
Government, it is not, therefore, any denigratory remark to say
that there could be a much more comprehensive register if the
Government did it, and obviously what you do is highly valued.
The question is, and we will ask them about it: why after all
this time have we moved no further forward in terms of getting
a register for the Government? It would not be all that expensive,
Mr Radcliffe: I think we have
in the private sector, or certainly my company has, said that
we are already undertaking and have payment from the art trade
for a very substantial effort and, therefore, the additional cost
for us to receive from the Government the data we do not currently
have would be relatively small. I do not think the problem to
getting government agreement is wholly a financial one, though
I think that is part of it, but I think the main problem has been
that the police who hold stolen object data and the criminal and
case data that goes with it are reluctant to enter into agreements
with private sector companies under which that data would be available
for searching, even though for stolen vehicles, stolen construction
equipment and in many other areas public-private partnerships
have been set up and I think work pretty successfully.
Q139 Chairman: We are going to have
somebody from the Home Office come to talk to us about this, but
is this simply a question of guarding one's territory or is there,
in your view, a wider public interest that prompts the police
to take up this attitude?
Mr Ellis: I think perhaps I could
answer that with my previous experience of having been in the
police. There is a certain nervousness, and let me put it no stronger
than that, that what the police hold is not only property data
on what has been stolen, but they hold criminal intelligence about
those thefts and about potential suspects and they are very nervous
about having a form of public-private partnership which might
somehow compromise their investigations and the presentation of
evidence to court subsequently. That said, the proposals which
have been put forward from the private sector, and I know Mr Radcliffe
will correct me if I say anything which is not right, but we have
proposed the working of a system which would rely solely on the
property data being released into the private sector to allow
those systems to proactively search the marketplace which frankly
no other national database anywhere in the world provides, so
effectively by utilising what the private sector already contribute
in this field, you would be establishing virtually a revolutionary
type of database which would only work to safeguard victims of
crime and the art market itself, so there has to be a mechanism
found to get around this reluctance on the part of the police
and, therefore, the Home Office to share this data. I am aware,
and here I must don a hat of Council for the Prevention of Art
Theft, that there has been a proposal that that registered charity
operates, if you like, as the buffer between government, police
and the operation of the database and that may be a way forward.