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Greek government seeks legal guidance on Parthenon Marbles

To anyone reading the news over the last couple of weeks, it can not have escaped their attention that a team of lawyers [1] (namely, Professor Norman Palmer, Geoffrey Robertson QC & Amal Clooney nee Alamudin (wife of George) have visited Athens to discuss the Parthenon Sculptures. They were also accompanied by David Hill, the chair of the International Association of the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Most of the press attention on the story has been because of the inclusion of Amal Clooney in the team. I can categorically state here though that she has had a long running interest in the case. Documents prepared in early 2011 for discussions with the Greek Government (which I was present at) bear her name at the end.

Much has been made in the press of how she will solve the issue – which I’m sure she would be the first to admit is complete nonsense. It is a long and complex dispute & however it is finally resolved, I don’t think it would be possible to assign all the success to a single individual. That said however, she has had a remarkable effect in lifting the issue from one discussed by academics and the broadsheet press, into one that every newspaper is talking about. The effects from a PR point of view can not be under-estimated & far more people in Britain now know what the Parthenon Marbles are compared to two weeks ago. Furthermore, the media wants to support winners – in the battle of the establishment, versus a famous film star & his highly intelligent, glamorous wife, many tend to take a different view to if it was portrayed as a cause only of real interest to Greeks & left leaning intellectuals.

I will write more about the specifics of legal action later & what was actually said after the meetings, but first of all, here is the key press coverage from their visit.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens [2]

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [3]

Eminent lawyers to advise Greek PM on Parthenon Marbles
Saturday October 11, 2014

Rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney and her eminent colleague Geoffrey Robertson are due in Athens on Monday for talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras which are expected to focus on legal arguments Greece can use in its bid to retrieve the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum.

The British-based, Lebanese-born lawyer, who recently made headlines by marrying American actor George Clooney, and her senior colleague Robertson are due to stay in Athens through Thursday, according to the London-based Doughty Street Chambers legal firm. The barristers, who are also to meet with Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas during their stay, were first asked to provide advice to Athens in 2011.

It was then that David Hill, an archaeologist who chairs the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles asked Norman Palmer, a lawyer specializing in cultural heritage issues, to explore Greece’s legal options.

Palmer, who is known for securing the return of Aborigine remains to Australia from London’s Natural History Museum, sought the help of Robertson, with whom he had worked on the Australian claim.

Last March, George Clooney caused a stir by expressing support for the idea of the Parthenon Marbles being returned to Athens.

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [4]

Samaras to meet Alamuddin Clooney on Wednesday to discuss Parthenon Marbles
Monday October 13, 2014 (14:10)

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is to meet human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney on Wednesday, as part of an ongoing legal process to secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece it has been announced.

The Culture Ministry said in a statement on Monday that the lawyer, who recently married actor George Clooney, would meet with Samaras at his office in the Maximos Mansion and then receive a guided tour of the Acropolis Museum. She will be joined by her boss at Doughty Street Chambers, Geoffrey Robertson.

The lawyers are due to meet Greece’s Culture Minister Costas Tassoulas on Tuesday.

Alamuddin Clooney, who is based in Britain, has represented Ukrainian former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at the European Court of Human Rights and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in extradition proceedings. She also advised former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on the conflict in Syria.

“Mr Robertson and Mrs Clooney were first asked to provide legal advice to the Greek government on this matter in 2011. They will be holding a series of meetings with government officials during their stay,» Doughty Street Chambers said in a recent statement.

From:
Guardian [5]

Clooney’s wife Amal Alamuddin to advise Greece on Elgin marbles bid
Thursday 9 October 2014 19.42 BST

Human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney who married George Clooney last month, is heading to Athens to advise the Greek government in its battle to repatriate the Parthenon marbles from Britain.

The Lebanese-born Alamuddin, who married Clooney in a star-studded ceremony in Venice, will meet Greece’s prime minister Antonis Samaras and culture minister Konstantinos Tasoulas alongside her boss Geoffrey Robertson, their Doughty Street chambers said on Thursday.

“Mr Robertson and Mrs Clooney were first asked to provide legal advice to the Greek government on this matter in 2011. They will be holding a series of meetings with government officials during their stay,” the chambers added in a statement.

The pair will be in Athens from 13 to 16 October.

The marbles were removed from the Acropolis in Athens by Lord Elgin, while Athens was under Ottoman control in the 19th Century. Greece has sought their return from the British Museum for decades, to no avail.

In March George Clooney backed their return to Greece while promoting his film The Monuments Men. The British Museum trustees say the marbles legally belong to the museum. Greece says it is no longer an issue of ownership and that it would accept them back as a permanent loan.

To do so, the Greek government would first have to relinquish its claim to them, the British Museum says.

Alamuddin Clooney, who is based in Britain, has represented Ukrainian former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko at the European court of human rights and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in extradition proceedings. She also advised former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan on the conflict in Syria.

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [6]

Alamuddin’s help sought in Greece’s Marbles fight
Thursday October 9, 2014 (22:34)
By Maria Petrakis

Amal Alamuddin Clooney may join Greece’s battle to retrieve its antiquities from the British Museum.

Human rights lawyers Alamuddin Clooney, recently married to the actor George, and Geoffrey Robertson will visit Athens next week to confer with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras over the Greek government’s fight to recover the Parthenon sculptures displayed at the museum. The Doughty Street barristers will visit Athens from October 13 to October 16 at the invitation of the Greek government, the London-based legal firm said in a statement on its website.

The visit may breathe new life into Greece’s campaign to retrieve the sculptures, known as the Elgin Marbles and taken from the Parthenon’s frieze to Britain more than 200 hundred years ago. Successive UK governments have said they won’t be returned. The frieze depicts gods, giants, Greeks and centaurs in the annual Panathenaic procession.

Alamuddin Clooney and Robertson were first asked to provide legal advice to Athens on the campaign to retrieve the artworks from the 5th century BC Acropolis held in London in 2011, according to the legal firm’s statement.

They will also be meeting Culture Minister Konstantinos Tasoulas during their trip to Athens.

Samaras was culture minister in June 2009 when the New Acropolis Museum opened in Athens, three decades after the first call for a design. The museum is Greece’s answer to the British Museum’s argument that there’s nowhere to house the Marbles.

Clooney Support

White plaster replicas of the stones in the British Museum sit next to the sand-colored stones left behind in Athens in the top glass gallery of the building designed by Bernard Tschumi.

British Museum director Neil MacGregor, in a 2007 interview, said objects could in theory be loaned for up to six months, though this would be impossible while the Greek government refused to acknowledge the Museum as the legal owner. Samaras said at the time that would be unacceptable to any Greek government.

Robertson led a legal initiative in 2006 which required the Natural History Museum to return the remains of Tasmanian Aborigines, according to the Doughty Street statement on Thursday.

Alamuddin Clooney is married to Oscar-winning actor George Clooney, who called on Britain to return the Marbles to Greece in February during a news conference for his film “The Monuments Men”.

At the time, then Greek Culture Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos thanked Clooney and invited him to visit the New Acropolis Museum.

From:
Daily Telegraph [7]

Amal Alamuddin to tour Acropolis as she advises Greece on return of Elgin Marbles
By Nick Squires, Athens
7:00PM BST 13 Oct 2014

Campaigners calling for the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum to Greece hope that the involvement of Amal Alamuddin will break the decades-old deadlock on the issue.

Ms Alamuddin, who last month married George Clooney in a lavish, four-day wedding in Venice, flew from London to Athens on Monday to advise the Greek government on how best to press its case.

Along with the boss of her London chambers, the high-profile Australian lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, she will hold talks with Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, and Konstantinos Tasoulas, the culture minister, and will visit the Acropolis Museum, where the remainder of the 2,500 year-old marbles are kept.

“We really welcome celebrities getting involved. As campaigners we chip away at changing public opinion, but people take notice of celebrities, so it’s good news for us,” said Eddie O’Hara, the chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, which has campaigned for their restitution for 30 years.

“We would hope that it will move the argument along by engaging more people.”

There is keen anticipation, too, in Greece – on Monday, many Greek newspapers carried photographs of Ms Alamuddin and extensive coverage of her three-day visit.

The marbles were taken from the Parthenon in the early 1800s by Lord Elgin, the then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who sold them to the British government.

Their removal was criticised by Byron, among others, who denounced Lord Elgin as a vandal, and wrote in a poem “Dull is the eye that will not weep to see, Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed, By British hands …”

They have been a bone of contention between the UK and Greece ever since.

Britain’s refusal to return the marbles, also known as the Parthenon friezes, was a matter of shame, said Mr O’Hara, a former Labour MP for Knowsley South in Merseyside.

“If you visit the Acropolis Museum you see gaps in the displays, ghostly images of the pieces that remain in the British Museum,” he told The Telegraph.

“Every time an international visitor sees them, that’s to the discredit of the UK. Giving them back would be a grand gesture on cultural and ethical grounds.

“This monument has a special place in Western civilisation and it should have its integrity restored.

“They are sculpted elements of the Parthenon which were sawn off by Lord Elgin’s agents.”

The friezes should be returned as “soon as possible” the British Committee argues.

As she arrives in Athens, the Lebanese-born, London-based lawyer has the moral support of her new husband.

While promoting his new film “The Monuments Men” earlier this year, George Clooney told the Greeks they were in the right and that it would “probably be the right thing to do” for the British Museum to give up the sculptures.

Opponents of returning the marbles argue that their restitution would open a can of worms, with museums around the world likely to face demands to give up cultural treasures that were pilfered, dug up or bought from foreign countries.

But the British Committee says the case of the marbles is so unique that it would not set a precedent.

“I can’t think of another example of a UNESCO monument which has been split in two, between two cities which are 2,500 miles apart. The Parthenon is the emblem of UNESCO, it’s not just any old monument,” said Mr O’Hara.

The British Museum had, over the years, used “a series of discredited arguments”, including that the Greeks were unable to look after the friezes and that they did not have a suitable museum in which to put them, he said.

Those arguments now look flimsy because the Greeks unveiled a new museum on the Acropolis in 2009, which is purpose-built to accommodate the British Museum pieces.

The sleek, modern building lies within sight of the ancient Acropolis citadel and showcases sculptures from the golden age of Athenian democracy in the fifth century BC.

The Trustees of the British Museum maintain that the marbles legally belong to the museum.

The Parthenon marbles are Ms Alamuddin’s first high-profile case since marrying the Hollywood star in Venice last month.

Before coming to the world’s attention as the fiancée of the world’s most eligible bachelor, she had represented Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, and Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister, and advised former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the conflict in Syria.

She was first asked to provide legal advice to the Greek government regarding the marbles in 2011, long before she met Mr Clooney.

In 2007 Mr Robertson led a legal fight which resulted in London’s Natural History Museum having to return the remains of Tasmanian Aborigines to Australia.

He has called for the adoption of “an international rule requiring the return of cultural treasures of great national significance.”

It would not open the flood gates to similar claims around the world because the Parthenon friezes and a few other cases were unique – “a living symbol of history and culture”, he said.

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [8]

Wednesday October 15, 2014 (11:38)
PM meets with Amal Alamuddin Clooney, in Greece for Parthenon Marbles bid

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was on Wednesday scheduled to meet with human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, as part of an ongoing legal process to secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

The lawyer – who is joined by her boss at Doughty Street Chambers, Geoffrey Robertson, and lawyer Norman Palmer – was set to meet with Samaras at his office in the Maximos Mansion in Athens before receiving a guided tour of the Acropolis Museum at 1 p.m.

A press briefing was scheduled at the Museum at 1.30 p.m. The lawyers were expected visit the Parthenon in the afternoon.

On Tuesday, the legal team met with Greece’s Culture Minister Costas Tassoulas.

“The issue of returning and reuniting the Parthenon Marbles is one of top importance which Greece has steadily and for a long time demanded,” Tassoulas said.

“It is our duty… to do everything we can to ensure the success of that demand, which is made not only in the name of Greece but also in the name of global cultural heritage,” he said

From:
Greek Reporter [9]

Alamuddin Meets With Greek Culture Minister
by Daphne Tsagari – Oct 14, 2014

Following her meeting with Culture Minister Kostas Tasoulas, famous human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin-Clooney visited Varoulko restaurant at the Mikrolimano seafront in Piraeus, to taste amazing dishes prepared by top Greek chef Lefteris Lazarou.

Alamuddin and two other British lawyers arrived yesterday in Greece to provide the Greek government with legal advice on its efforts for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, both lawyers with extensive experience in cases of cultural restitution, are the delegation’s senior lawyers, although Alamuddin-Clooney has unsurprisingly drawn rather more attention. Also taking part in the meetings is David Hill, President of the International Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, who was already in Greece.

During the meeting, Tasoulas reiterated the Greek government’s desire for a process mediated by UNESCO (i.e. outside of international courts). That proposal was made over 15 months ago although there has been no official response from Britain, a fact which prompted UNESCO to reprimand the country in a recent Paris meeting by the organization’s committee for cultural restitution. Britain has six months to accept the (non-binding) process.

Another option is to seek a legal route, although some believe this may be risky given that there is no guarantee that such a case would be successful, and a negative result would be catastrophic for those wishing to see the marbles returned to Greece. Specifically Professor Dusan Sidjanski, President of the Swiss Committee for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles, sent an urgent letter to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras urging the Greek government to use Alamuddin as a ‘consultant not a lawyer’.

The UK lawyers are expected to make recommendations of their own, although it is unclear if any statements will be made following today’s meeting.

Alamuddin and the other lawyers, along with cultural restitution experts, will meet with Samaras tomorrow at 11.30 am for approximately one hour. Tasoulas and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos may also be present.

Subsequently, the delegation will be given a tour of the new Acropolis Museum after which a press conference will be held at 1.30 pm. Alamuddin may also visit the Parthenon.

The spouse of the formerly most desirable bachelor on earth has reportedly already enjoyed her first views of the Acropolis, having dined at the roof garden of the Grande Bretagne hotel last night, which is over-looked by the ‘sacred rock.’

From:
Los Angeles Times [10]

Amal Clooney wades into Elgin Marbles debate during Greece trip
By David Ng
October 14 2014

George Clooney dramatized the work of historians rescuing art from the Nazis in his movie “The Monuments Men.” Now the actor-director’s wife, lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, is lending her newfound celebrity to the long-running dispute over the Elgin Marbles, which reside in Britain but are claimed by Greece.

Amal Clooney traveled to Greece this week to lend her legal expertise to local authorities concerning the cultural dispute surrounding the ancient works of art.

Her visit was expected to include meetings with the country’s Culture Minister Constantinos Tassoulas and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. She is also scheduled to tour the Acropolis with fellow lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.

Eddie O’Hara, the chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, told the Telegraph that “we really welcome celebrities getting involved. As campaigners we chip away at changing public opinion, but people take notice of celebrities, so it’s good news for us.”

The committee has long fought for the repatriation of the marbles that the 7th Earl of Elgin took from Greece during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The sculptural works were part of a larger set of pieces at the Parthenon and other parts of the Acropolis.

The Elgin Marbles — also known as the Parthenon Sculptures — currently reside at the British Museum in London. O’Hara said in a statement on the committee’s website that “giving the sculptures from the Parthenon, displayed in the UK back to Greece, would be a grand gesture on cultural and ethical grounds.”

Britain acquired the marbles from Lord Elgin in 1816. The year 2016 will mark the 200th anniversary of that purchase.

George Clooney has spoken publicly about his desire to see the works returned to Greece. In February, while promoting “The Monuments Men” at the Berlin Film Festival, the actor-director told a reporter that he thought returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece is the “right thing to do.”

Britain has long fought to keep the marbles, claiming that the British Museum has a legal title to the works. Greece’s government has disputed that title, saying that the works were looted from their sites.

From:
Guardian [11]

Amal Clooney advises Greece on return of Parthenon marbles to Athens
Helena Smith Athens
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 October 2014 19.26 BST

Amal Clooney Amal Clooney, left, speaks with Greek Culture Minister Kostas Tassoulas, during their meeting in Athens to discuss the return of the marbles. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

Amal Clooney, the human rights lawyer, has said it is only prudent that Greece seeks legal advice in its attempt to reclaim the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum, but hopes an amicable solution can be found to the decades-long dispute.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, the Oxford-educated lawyer, who recently shot to fame when she married George Clooney, said repatriating the classical masterpieces to their original home would only be fair.

“In my view returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece is the just thing to do,” said Clooney on the first day of a three-day visit to Athens in which she held talks with the Greek culture minister to discuss the country’s legal options. “I hope that an amicable solution to this issue can be found, given the longstanding friendship between Greece and the UK,” she said, adding that she and her colleagues, Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, QCs and specialists in cultural restitution, had initially been approached by the Greek authorities three years ago.

“But I believe it is prudent for the Greek government to seek legal advice – including in relation to ongoing efforts to engage Unesco – and of course it is for them to determine their next steps in light of this legal context.”

Clooney, who was making her first professional foray since her wedding in Venice three weeks ago, will meet prime minister Antonis Samaras, a fervent advocate of the marbles’ return, on Wednesday.

The Greek leader is thought to have instructed the high-powered team to come to Greece after all other channels – both political and diplomatic – were felt to have been exhausted. Since July 2013, Britain has failed to respond to an appeal by Samaras’ administration for the dispute to be mediated by Unesco, the United Nation’s cultural arm.

For nearly 40 years Athens has argued that the sculptures – part of a giant frieze depicting the Panathenaic procession, which adorned the Parthenon until their removal by Lord Elgin, England’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire – should be “reunited” with surviving pieces in Athens in the name of respect for a monument of universal importance.

In a foretaste of the arguments Greece could deploy if the property row were ever to reach the courts, Geoffrey Robertson insisted that the marbles posed a unique case and, as such, would not endanger the British Museum’s collections.

“The Parthenon friezes are an amazing and unique snapshot of human civilisation 2,500 years ago. They show not war but happy, well-liquored discourse between the first truly civilised peoples. Half of this snapshot is in Athens beneath the blue sky above the Acropolis. The other half is in a sterilised gallery as if on a hospital bed in a museum,” he told the Guardian.

Robertson, who enlisted Clooney to work on a team now handling the portfolio at the London-based legal firm Doughty Chambers, described the British Museum’s steadfast refusal to return the carvings as “arrogant cultural vandalism”.

Even worse, he said, the British institution had committed the cardinal sin of damaging the sculptures by employing controversial means to clean them in the nearly 200 years since it had acquired the stones.

“It is a great project, not for Greece but for the world, to reunite the marbles so we can see them clearly where Phidias first carved them, to juxtapose the beginning of human civilisation with the threat to it posed today by Isis,” added the barrister, referring to the barbaric tactics employed by Islamist terrorists to the east of Greece.

“It is arrogant cultural vandalism for the British Museum to insist that this most important relic of our culture should be broken in two. International law has developed to the stage where a unique, and I stress unique, cultural artefact should be repaired.”

Robertson, who with Palmer helped secure the return of Aborigine remains to Australia from London’s Natural History Museum, denied that the repatriation of the artworks would open the floodgates to similar claims. “This case will not set a precedent, the British Museum can keep its mummies but not marbles that, united, belong to the world.”

From:
Daily Telegraph [12]

Amal Clooney: talks over fate of Elgin marbles ‘a positive sign’
By Nick Squires, Athens
9:01PM BST 14 Oct 2014

arely has a legal encounter on the finer points of international cultural heritage law drawn such attention.

Amal Clooney, the British lawyer who married George Clooney last month, said on Tuesday that Greece could embark on a legal battle to win back the Elgin Marbles.

But the focus in Athens was less on the 200-year-old dispute with the British Museum, than on the wife of one of Hollywood’s leading actors.

Mrs Clooney met Greece’s culture minister, Konstantinos Tasoulas, for an hour-long discussion of the legal avenues that Athens could explore to recover the friezes.

But although the meeting was behind closed doors, on the streets of Athens it was a media circus.

The 36-year-old photographed from the moment she stepped out of her hotel, wearing large sunglasses and a fitted knee-length white shift dress with olive green trim.

As she arrived at the culture ministry for the midday meeting, a phalanx of photographers captured her every movement: once inside, she was photographed cocking her head and gazing at Mr Tasoulas; star-struck ministry staff snapped pictures of her on their smartphones.

“I think it’s a positive sign that the Greek government is seeking further legal advice,” Mrs Clooney told The Telegraph after the meeting.

“Everybody hopes there will be a friendly and amicable solution, but I think it’s prudent for the government to consider all its legal options.”

Having received a film-star reception when she arrived on Monday evening at the five-star Grande Bretagne Hotel, Mrs Clooney was similarly mobbed by television crews and photographers when she went for lunch on Tuesday.

Dining with Olga Kefalogianni, the equally-glamorous Greek minister of tourism, she once again needed her sunglasses to shield her eyes from the paparazzi while eating at the Michelin-starred port-side restaurant Varoulko.

It was a rather prosaic echo of the media frenzy surrounding her wedding to Clooney in Venice last month, when the Grand Canal’s vaporetti water buses and gondolas were brought to a standstill by a flotilla of water taxis carrying the couple’s guests.

Mrs Clooney was first asked to provide legal advice to the Greek government regarding the marbles in 2011, before she met Mr Clooney.

Mrs Clooney will meet Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, on Wednesday morning, then will visit the Acropolis Museum before holding a press conference.

Asked whether Greece would take legal action, Geoffrey Robertson QC, the founder of Mrs Clooney’s London chambers, told The Telegraph: “We were advising the minister and discussing the way forward. Unesco has asked the British government to engage in mediation and has given them until March 30 to respond.”

He said it was “immoral” for the British Museum to continue to refuse to return the 5th century BC sculptures, which adorned the Parthenon temple on top of the Acropolis, the craggy citadel that overlooks modern Athens.

Around half the surviving marbles are kept in the Acropolis Museum, within clear sight of the Parthenon, while the other half are on display in the British Museum.

“Reuniting the marbles is vital for civilisation. It’s immoral for the British Museum to prevent them from being returned. This is a project that the world must support,” he said.

The Australian QC, who seven years ago led a legal fight which resulted in London’s Natural History Museum having to return the remains of Tasmanian Aborigines to Australia, said the gallery in which the Parthenon friezes were kept in the British Museum was “horrible”.

He contested the argument that any decision by the museum to relinquish the marbles would result in museums around the world facing similar claims for the repatriation of cultural treasures.

“The object of the exercise is not to create a precedent for the denuding of museums,” he said. “It is to achieve the reuniting of something that is unique in world history. The British Museum will get to keep its mummies and its Rosetta Stone. Returning the marbles to Greece would have no knock-on effect.”

But campaigners pushing for the return of the marbles to Athens expressed deep reservations about the Greeks initiating a legal battle against the UK.

They fear that it would be a tough case to win – the British Museum insists it acquired the sculptures by legitimate means – and that if the fight was lost, the case would be closed for decades to come.

“We are cautious about litigation because it would deal with Elgin’s acquisition,” said Eddie O’Hara, a former Labour MP and the chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

“It was made under Ottoman rule, when the Greek state didn’t exist, and there have been changes in property and other laws since then. We think that getting a favourable legal result will be very difficult. The marbles should be reunited on ethical and aesthetic grounds.”

The Parthenon marbles owned by the Greeks are displayed alongside plaster cast copies of those that remain in London – pale imitations which were produced by the British Museum in 1846 and shipped to Athens.

“From the way they are displayed, you see which parts are missing,” a spokeswoman for the museum said. “It’s an indirect way for us to say: ‘We would like to have them back’. Securing the return of the rest of the marbles is very important for Greeks.”

A video presentation watched by the 1.2 million tourists who visit the museum each year describes the “systematic looting of the Parthenon, especially by Lord Elgin.”

The British diplomat “proceeded to violently remove and carry off much of the sculpture,” the documentary explains.

“The stone blocks were too heavy to carry away so Elgin’s team used iron bars to detach the friezes,” said the museum official. “By just taking the most beautiful, sculpted part, he ruined the whole block each time.”