If this story is true and I have no doubt it is, Scotland Yard may be closing its internationally renowned Art and Antiques Unit. Vernon Rapley the former head of the department, which has cracked a number of high profile cases involving stolen and fake works has revealed that the unit’s three detectives have been reassigned to the investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire.
“Losing it now, when cultural heritage is under threat in so much of the world, would represent a very serious loss.”
Mr. Rapley, headed the Art and Antiques Unit from 2001 until 2010. In an interview, he said he was “worried that the closure of the unit is now being considered”. He told the Art Newspaper: “I am very concerned that the Metropolitan Police is unable to give assurances on when the three detectives who have been temporarily reassigned will be returned to the unit.”
Currently, the unit is made up of Philip Clare, Sophie Hayes, and Ray Swan. Claire Hutcheon the detective sergeant responsible for the overall running of the department left in March.
Set up in 1969 the unit has a database second to the Art Loss Register. Britain’s art market is second only to the US and experts claim up to £200m worth of stolen art and antiques are sold in the UK each year. Interpol estimates that art theft is the fourth largest organised crime after drugs, people trafficking and arms.
Rapley, who left the Met to become director of cultural heritage protection and security, at the V&A says: “Losing it now, when cultural heritage is under threat in so much of the world, would represent a very serious loss.” A police spokesperson stated the unit’s three detectives have been transferred on a ‘short-term’ basis to the Grenfell Tower investigation, which is “one of the largest in the Met’s history and involves the use of detectives from a range of different units”. He says that Scotland Yard is “maintaining ongoing relationships with key partners in this interim period and will continue to investigate any allegations of a crime relating to art or antiques”.
This is yet another thorn in Amber Rudd’s side. She was recently criticised by Mayor Sadiq Kahn for not doing enough to support the Met police. He feels strongly that added funds need to come from the government. Rudd feels the budget should come from the local London town hall allocated budget.
Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2017 Pink Panther’ heist at London’s Masterpiece art fair where thieves escaped with £3 million of gems