Looted artefacts from conflict zones

MQT on 2015-09-16
Session date: 
September 16, 2015
Question By: 
Roger Evans
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


It was recently confirmed that the first artefact to have been smuggled to the UK after being looted during the Libyan uprising is to be held in the British museum until it can be returned. What work is the Metropolitan Police Service undertaking to combat the illicit trade in artefacts looted from around the world during times of conflict?


Answer for Looted artefacts from conflict zones

Answer for Looted artefacts from conflict zones

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  Thanks very much, Roger.  This is an issue which is extremely important and one in which I personally have taken a great deal of interest because, clearly, artefacts of huge cultural importance are being taken from sites in the Middle East by Daesh or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - or whatever you want to call them - and others and are being used to finance their terroristic operations.

There is a great deal of work being done by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on this.  They have an Art & Antiques Unit.  They are working together with the National Terrorist Financial Unit to monitor what is going on and, clearly, a lot of this has to be done in concert with the Border Force.  However, it is something that I am going to be taking up with Sir Bernard [Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis] to see what else we can do to crack down.  London is clearly the centre of the trade in this sort of stuff and we have to find ways of making sure that these guys are not profiting from looting historic antiquities in the Middle East.

Roger Evans AM:  It is very worrying that the destruction of monuments that we are seeing in the Middle East at the moment is possibly being used as a cover to loot items from them and to sell those to provide financing to support terrorism and acts against our country.  When you work with the MPS to do this, will you also ask them to provide support for the British Museum and, indeed, the Museum of London and other organisations that we will need to preserve these antiquities when we manage to recover them?  They will obviously have to be kept safe rather than returned.

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  This is just another example of the kind of national - and indeed international - work that falls to the MPS and the impact on its funding.  We have just had a conversation about frontline policing with Joanne [Joanne McCartney AM].  We have been able, unlike any other force in Britain, to keep frontline policing very high in London.  However, this sort of pressure on the MPS’s operations undoubtedly - coupled with all the other stuff it has to do: Operation Goddard [the Goddard inquiry into child sex abuse], investigations into historic suspected sex abuse and all that kind of thing - mounts up.  It certainly fortifies us in going to the Government and saying, “We really need proper funding to reflect the national and international obligations of the MPS”.

Roger Evans AM:  Policing our capital is a very expensive and complex business.

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  It is.  It is not just our capital, though, that we are asked to police.  That is the problem.

Roger Evans AM:  We are aware of some smaller items turning up on eBay, for example.  Is that something that the MPS can keep an eye out for?

Boris Johnson MP (Mayor of London):  I was not aware of that, but I am sure that that is exactly the kind of thing that the Art & Antiques Unit is doing.  They are obviously in touch with dealers and with museums to see what is going on and do their best to keep track of this.  Clearly, it is a very fast-moving target.