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The £300m trade in stolen artworks

Friday 15 November 2013, 15:13

David Lewis David Lewis Producer 5 live

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5 live Investigates reports on £300m stolen art trade

The biggest crime in the UK after the illegal drugs trade is not vehicle theft or burglary; according to a report from UK police chiefs, it is the theft of art works from museums, private galleries or historic buildings.

An illicit trade valued at an estimated £300m a year – although the true figure could be much higher because only a fraction of art thefts are ever reported.

The police warn that art is being stolen to be sold to dealers and collectors in the Far East and South East Asia where there is a big demand for artefacts made from rhino horn and other historic treasures.

5 live Investigates this week hears from one museum which raised £750,000 through a public appeal to keep a rare 600-year-old jug in the UK. What the museum hadn’t expected, was that thieves also had their eyes on the jug.

After it went on public display, it was stolen.

Although it was later recovered, it had been damaged. The museum has now been forced to put a replica on display. A man was jailed over the theft.

The owners of Britain’s stately homes have set up their own network to keep track of artworks that are being taken from displays and break-ins.

The police warn that cultural crime is on the increase because the rewards can be huge and the risks relatively low – and they say the public often regard it as a crime against the very wealthy. But the police say such thefts are robbing future generations of a chance to see Britain’s cultural past.

There is now a specialist unit to target cultural crime. Part of its role is to develop an intelligence about the crime gangs involved, many of them with international links and interests in other criminal enterprises.

They admit investigating cultural crime can be difficult because the thieves often have a specialist knowledge about the market. Video report:

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Also on 5 live Investigates – the practice of home circumcision for baby boys.

There are religious and cultural groups who want boys circumcised but most Primary Care Trusts in England will not fund circumcisions that are not done for medical reasons. We look at concerns that children are being put at risk by home circumcision services.

We hear from one mother whose baby bled to death after being circumcised at home.

5 live Investigates Sunday 17th November 11am. Listen live or listen again here.

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