Yesterday, IAL Senior Researcher Emily Gould and I were fortunate enough to be invited by Historic England‘s Mark Harrison to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Protection of Cultural Heritage meeting at the Palace of Westminster. This is the group launched last November, one of the priorities of which is to lobby within the UK parliament for the protection of cultural heritage and the recovery of stolen or looted cultural objects.
Yesterday’s meeting was chaired by MP David Burrowes (co-chair is Lord Colin Renfrew, who was present as well) and focused on the policing of cultural heritage crime, highlighting some of the challenges and successes of law enforcement in dealing with this issue. We heard from Claire Hutcheon, head of the London Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiquities Unit, and several other police officers, as well as Mark Harrison who provided Historic England’s perspective on the protection of built heritage in England. Mark brought to the attention of the group the first ever successful prosecution under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 brought recently before the Worcester Crown Court.
Several recommendations from a working group were read out, including noteworthy suggestions on amending in small but significant ways the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the above-mentioned 2003 Act. These were discussed, but led to no firm resolutions or endorsements.
Finally, there were comments on the need for Britain to have, like many other countries in Europe and elsewhere, a national heritage protection unit. Otherwise the role of policing heritage crime remains fragmented and (to some extent) imperfect. But, as the chair noted in his closing remarks, there is a London mayoral election and an EU referendum coming up. It is therefore unlikely that much will be done on this – or any – front for some time. Who knows, the next APPG meeting may take place in a completely new environment…