New Law To Crack Down On Public Sculpture Thefts

Labour MP Graham Jones proposes Metal Theft Prevention Bill

The Labour MP Graham Jones is to propose a private members bill in the House of Commons today that will call for more vigilant licensing for scrap metal dealers to prevent thieves from stealing high value metals ranging from bronze public sculptures to rail cables which have been disrupting the networks. The Metal Theft Prevention Bill calls for tighter regulations for dealers to disclose the source of their holdings and  greater police powers to close down scrap metal dealers who flout licence conditions. The MP stated:”This hugely dangerous crime has already caused 6 fatalities and over 50 serious injuries in the last 12 months. It is only a matter of time before an innocent person is hurt or worse.” Recent thefts at Carshalton, Croydon and across south London have resulted in thousands of pounds of damage caused to war memorials.

There have been many high profile stories in the news lately about the theft of copper cables from railway lines and church roof flashings. However, the rising price of scrap metal is now threatening the very fabric of our contemporary cultural heritage, with public works of sculpture stolen and smelted, as a result of the rising price of copper. Bronze sculptures which are fashioned out of 90% copper and 10% tin are involved in a large proportion of the works of art stolen in the UK in the last five years. A small fraction of the value of the art is ever achieved, however scrap value is still lucrative and enticing to a new breed of ruthless thieves.

The latest valuable Bronze to be stolen was created by the Pop Artist, Sir Peter Blake who is best known for his innovative album jacket for The Beatles, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. “Life as a Circus” features a variety of circus acts cast in bronze standing on top of each other, and celebrates the circus tradition of the resort.

The growing demand for copper by countries like China, seeking a cheaper source of this raw material, fueled by the booming electronics industries,, has created an unprecedented market for recycled copper. Prices make sculptures such as Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure” desirable as a source of scrap metal. The well known figure was stolen in 2005 by thieves who used a crane and a stolen truck to remove the sculpture from the Henry Moore Foundation grounds in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, sparking a global search for the culprits. The sculpture was worth around £3m, and police believe that the internationally known sculpture was cut up and melted down for around £1,500 in scrap metal. Initially the police thought the figure was stolen for its value on the art market. In 2009 investigators announced their belief that the sculpture was sold for scrap. Key  British artists including, Lynn Chadwick’s The Watchers, stolen in 2006,  Elisabeth Frink bronze horse, stolen in 2009 and Robert Mileham who had 3 sculptures stolen in 2006 have been targeted. The sheer size of some of the stolen sculptures requires a new breed of thieves with the knowledge and the means of shifting large and heavy objects. The scope of the task to remove large artworks, in the dark is dangerous.

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