Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 136-139)


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, would it?

  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.

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