The Metropolitan Police’s new team of ArtBeat Special Constables were deployed for the first time on October 20 as part of Operation Syenite. The aim of the operation is to raise awareness among London’s art world about antiquities looted from the Afghanistan National Museum in Kabul during the 1990s.
The Met’s Art and Antiques unit recovered four consignments of these looted items in 2002 and 2003, three at Heathrow airport and one at a central London conservation studio.
They are currently being stored in a secure police location, awaiting their return to Afghanistan.
On September 30, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) launched the Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk. This describes several categories of pre-Islamic and Islamic cultural objects that are protected under Afghan legislation, banning their export and sale. Police and ICOM believe these are the objects most likely to be traded illicitly.
This Red List will be distributed by ArtBeat officers to dealers, auction houses, museums and collectors. They will also advise them on what to do if they come across an item they believe may have been looted from Afghanistan. These ad-hoc visits will continue throughout October and November when ArtBeat officers are on duty.
ArtBeat is a partnership between the Met and the art industry. Museum and art industry staff are supported by their employer when they volunteer, with the employer providing time off for training and one day per fortnight for operational work. The scheme is designed to utilise police and industry experience.
There are currently 12 ArtBeat special constables and the Met hope to recruit 24 in total.
Following application and selection, volunteers complete a four-week training course. This consists of 18 days’ training with additonal training by the Art & Antiques Unit and experts from the art world.
To apply, visit www.met.police.uk/careers/special_constable.html