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Is the UK Government really committed to stopping the trade in stolen artefacts?

For a while, the British government was in the process of setting up a database of stolen artwork & antiquities. However investigation by The Art Newspaper reveals that these plans have been quietly shelved by the government, despite the initial enthusiasm that they showed for the idea.
Britain is currently regarded by many in the field to be one of the key hubs in the international market in stolen artworks, but with attitudes like this can we really hope for any sort of change soon?

The Art Newspaper [1]

Thursday, 12 May 2005
British government scraps key database
It was supposed to be a crucial element in helping to enforce the new Dealing in Cultural Objects Act
By Martin Bailey

LONDON. The British government has quietly dropped plans for a database of stolen art and antiquities, although this was a key element in helping to enforce a new law. The Dealing in Cultural Objects Act came into force at the beginning of 2004, and the government then advised dealers that consulting the projected database should be part of the “due diligence” process, to help establish that they were not knowingly handling tainted objects.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) warned the trade last year that in cases of suspected breaches of the new law, “a failure to consult the database [once established] would be a further evidential factor in determining whether the accused knew or believed that an object was tainted.”

The pilot “Database of stolen and unlawfully removed cultural objects” was to have been available in April 2004.

Following inquiries from The Art Newspaper, DCMS has admitted that it and the Home Office has decided “not to progress” the database. It said an independent appraisal had reached three conclusions: a database would not have a significant effect on reducing crime, the long-term sustainability of the database could not be assured, and there were question marks over how much demand there would be for such a database.

The U-turn is surprising, given DCMS’s commitment to the scheme in the build-up to the Dealing in Cultural Objects Act. The database had originally been a major recommendation in the 2000 report of the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel, chaired by Professor Norman Palmer. However, the scheme needed support from the Home Office, which does not regard the recovery of art and antiquities as a priority. The database would have been expensive—and the question was whether it should be primarily funded by the government or the trade.

Professor Palmer admits that he is disappointed with the news. He says that some members “were outraged, with disbelief that this policy decision had been taken without reference to the panel.”

The House of Commons select committee on Culture, Media and Sport was also scathing about the U-turn. “We are dismayed not so much by the decision itself—although it does seem to fly in the face of the evidence we received (not least from the Government)—but by the sheer amount of time it has taken to be made.”

Last month the British Art Market Federation, representing the trade, pointed out that a nationally-run database, subsidised by public funds, would have represented “a major deterrent against art crime.”