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Museums conference aims to beef up security

11 March 2013Written by Tom Derbyshire

A new organisation designed to improve museum security has held its first conference.

The meeting of the National Museums Security Group (NMSG), which is described as a free-to-join cooperative and is overseen by the V&A, took place in London last month.

The Museums Association (www.museumsassociation.org) reported that representatives from museums, galleries, libraries, archives and heritage sites across the UK discussed security issues ranging from intelligence around the theft of Chinese objects and archive crime to planning ahead and ways of increasing security without affecting visitors.

This move comes after a spate of thefts last year, including a raid at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where Chinese artefacts were taken, a Durham University Oriental Museum break-in, the theft of the medieval Wenlok Jug in Luton, a George Eliot writing desk taken in Nuneaton and 100 items such as coins, medals and watches seized from a Derby Museum and Art Gallery storage facility.

Other thefts have targeted rhino horn, although most of those incidents took place in 2011.

At the conference, NMSG promoted its recently developed online intranet, www.nmsg.uk.com, which can be accessed by authorised security representatives at member institutions.

The site allows intelligence to be spread rapidly to the NMSG's 800-strong membership, so users can upload CCTV footage, photographs and statistical data, send email alerts and report crimes to the police.

Vernon Rapley, the V&A's head of security services, said: "There are real benefits but the national scheme is very much in its infancy. We would like to raise awareness, especially to smaller museums, that this is a national tool that represents the whole country."

The Association of Chief Police Officers is expanding its heritage crime remit, which had been limited to archaeological and heritage sites, to include museums, galleries and archives. Mr Rapley said this was "a really welcome piece of news".

The NMSG plans to hold a conference annually and has secured funding from the V&A for the next three years.

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