Scotland Yard is up against it: in just a few months, 20 or so valuable bronze statues have vanished into thin air from in and around London.
"We picked up a significant rise in the number of large bronze statues that have been stolen in London and the (surrounding) Home Counties within the last six to 12 months," said Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley, from the Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiquities Unit. "We're particularly concerned because there seems to be little appreciation of the objects that have been stolen and there's quite a lot of damage being done to them when they're being stolen," he told AFP.
The thieves' 'modus operandi' is simple: find a valuable open air bronze sculpture in, say, a park, and then steal it, with a lorry if necessary. One of the three bronze figures that formed Lynn Chadwick's 'The Watchers' was stolen earlier this month from the grounds of Roehampton University in south-west London. Standing at more than two metres tall, it would have required up to eight men to lift it. Its estimated value was 600,000 pounds sterling ($A1.4 million). Detective Sergeant Rapley said that by stealing just one of the figures, it was "pretty much unsaleable". In mid-December, 'A Reclining Figure' by Henry Moore was stolen from the foundation he set up in Hertfordshire, north of London. The 3,000,000 pound sterling ($A7 million) statue has yet to be recovered and the Henry Moore Foundation is currently offering a "substantial" reward for its return. Hopes are not high, however.
Detective Sergeant Rapley and his team increasingly fear that the figures have been stolen purely for their scrap metal value and may already have been melted down. "That's obviously a huge concern to us, especially when you consider that we've lost a Henry Moore, a Lynn Chadwick and several other important works of art," the policeman explained. Art dealers cannot quite believe it, either.
"The value of the items as works of art far outweighs the value of the metal," said Alexandra Smith, from www.swift-find.com, an Internet search engine designed to trace stolen works of art. "I don't think that they have been stolen just for the scrap value - there is far too much planning that has gone into it," stated Dick Ellis, a former Scotland Yard Arts and Antiquities Unit officer who now works for the Art Management Group, an art security company. "With the Henry Moore, they stole a truck specifically to lift it before transferring it to some other vehicle, probably a container, so it could be shipped out of the area. "If you're going to steal something, cut it up, melt it down - I don't believe that they would go to that length and trouble to undertake other crimes to commit the main crime."
Mr Ellis suggested that because of the geography of the thefts, they were unlikely to be the work of a single group. But one thing is clear, he said: "It's a valuable commodity which is easy to steal, they're objects which are of a type that's sought after in today's art market, they're valuable, isolated and therefore vulnerable." So if the art is not being melted down, where is it going? "It's possible it's going abroad," Mr Ellis said. "I'm just hazarding a guess, possibly across into eastern Europe, (The stolen art works market) is very much a global market." For the moment at least, Scotland Yard is ruling nothing in and nothing out. "We just want to get out and explain the problem and try to encourage people to talk a bit more," said Detective Sergeant Rapley. "Usually, when we get a significant increase of crime in any particular area, we also get a significant increase in intelligence that comes in. "But on this occasion, we're receiving no information at all. It's as if these objects have disappeared completely, which leads us to conclude that there is a danger that they've been melted down or possibly exported."
from the abc