MPS unit targeting art thieves `faces closure` after detectives moved onto Grenfell tragedy

A dedicated unit of detectives investigating art and antique fraud has been reassigned to one of policing`s biggest ever inquiries – amid fears it will permanently mothballed.

Aug 17, 2017

A dedicated unit of detectives investigating art and antique fraud has been reassigned to one of policing`s biggest ever inquiries – amid fears it will permanently mothballed. Three officers from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) specialist team have been “temporarily” assigned to the huge investigation into the June Grenfell Tower inferno in west London, which claimed the lives of at least 80 people. But ex-Detective Vernon Rapley, who headed the force`s Art and Antiques Squad for almost a decade, said he had not been told officers would return to their roles and is “worried that the closure of the unit is now being considered”. His comments come just five months after Her Majesty`s Inspectorate of Constabulary raised a red flag warning for the first of a “national crisis” in the shortage of detectives and investigators in many forces. This is leading to excessive workloads with complex investigations sometimes being led by those who lack appropriate experience, it said. The MPS has a shortage of around 500 detectives and Mr Rapley believes the specialist unit could be under threat if its staff are abstracted for a long period of time and may be used to cover other complex investigations when the Grenfell inquiry concludes. Mr Rapley told The Art Newspaper: “I am very concerned that the Metropolitan Police is unable to give assurances on when the three detectives who have been temporarily reassigned will be returned to the unit.” He said the capital needed a “dedicated art squad”, adding: “Losing it now, when cultural heritage is under threat in so much of the world, would represent a very serious loss.” Specialising in tackling the theft and fraud of cultural items, the unit is responsible for the London Stolen Art Database – cataloguing the details of 54,000 stolen works. Units from across the force have been drafted in to help the Grenfell Tower investigation and officers are expected to continue the process of recovering evidence from the block`s blackened shell until the end of the year. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owned the tower, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which ran it, are being investigated over potential corporate manslaughter offences. An MPS spokesperson told Police Professional: “A total of three detectives from the Art and Antiques Unit have been temporarily transferred to the team of specialist investigators involved in the Grenfell Tower fire investigation. “The investigation into the fire is one of the largest in the Met`s history and involves the use of detectives from a range of different units. “The Met has liaised with key partners of the Arts and Antiques Unit, and is maintaining ongoing relationships with them in this interim period, and will continue to investigate any allegations of crime-related to art or antiques.”

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