Security head “fears” for museum’s Asian art
The V&A’s Vernon Rapley suspects a spate of UK thefts could involve criminals with connections to China
By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 25 July 2013
The head of security at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, Vernon Rapley, is “fearful” for the safety of its Chinese collection, he reveals in a recent podcast by the museum, pointing to recent thefts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Oriental Museum in Durham.
Rapley, formerly the head of the Metropolitan Police’s art and antiques unit, believes that criminals operating internationally “clearly have connections in China”. He has been told of “counterfeit goods being brought in from China” and that those involved “need to pay for them and objects in our collections could be used for that sort of transaction”.
Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Rapley added: “We have a reliable source which strongly suggests that some criminal actions taking place against UK collections involve criminals in China. I am concerned that they may be commissioning people to commit crimes.” The V&A probably has the finest UK collection of East Asian art, with 70,000 items.
Andy Bliss, Hertfordshire’s chief constable and the national police officer responsible for tackling heritage crime, is also “very concerned” about the growing threat against Chinese collections in UK museums.
There were two thefts in April last year. At Durham University’s Oriental Museum, a 1769 jade bowl and a Qing porcelain sculpture, worth over £2m, were taken. They were recovered a few days later. Two men were convicted and received long sentences.
A week later, there was a burglary at the Fitzwilliam Museum, where 18 major antiquities (mostly jade) were seized. Worth millions of pounds, they still have not been recovered. Four people have been sentenced.
An attempted theft at the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath took place that same month.
Earlier this year, we reported that the British Museum, with a major Chinese collection, was also targeted, although nothing was taken (The Art Newspaper, February 2013, p1). It remains unclear whether Chinese criminals were involved in these four incidents, but Rapley believes it is important to alert museums with East Asian collections to the threat.
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