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The Art and Antiques Helpline, launched in a joint initiative between the Antiques Trade Gazette and Trace, gives instant access to a comprehensive database of stolen artefacts across the UK and overseas via a simple phone call.

The helpline, open seven days a week (9am-6pm Monday to Saturday and 11am-4pm Sunday) offers a service that law enforcement agencies have been unable to provide.

Simon Berti of the Antiques Trade Gazette, who has been the driving force behind the initiative, said: “The combination of the Gazette’s readership and Trace’s database represents the perfect match.

“Antiques dealers and auctioneers can make a due diligence check on any item that gives cause for concern, which means they are less likely to fall victim to criminals.”

Callers are asked to be prepared to provide a thorough description of the item they would like checked.

Helpline staff will ring off immediately after the details have been taken. They will then run the check and call back with the results within minutes.

“The service costs £1 per minute to cover running costs and the helpline will attempt to deal with your enquiry within four minutes. The costs are kept down by taking details quickly and calling back at our own expense,” said Mr Berti.

“The service acts along similar lines to a credit card check carried out by retailers.

“There is very good liaison between the Gazette, Trace and all police forces in the UK as well as Interpol. Local officers routinely forward the details of stolen items to the database which means that the helpline service has the most up-to-date information available.

“We are offering this service simply because we can and we feel it offers a tremendous opportunity to beat crime in the trade. We hope that it will become standard practice for as many people as possible in the trade to make these checks.”

Subscribers to the Antiques Trade Gazette will find an explanatory leaflet and their helpline card with instant access phone number in this week’s issue. Call the helpline on 0906 5533 553 if you need an extra copy.

Please keep the card in your wallet at all times as you never know when you might want to make a check.