Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper reports that Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities unit is on its way to being shut down. The three officers on the team—Sophie Hayes, Philip Clare, and Ray Swan—have been assigned to aid the Metropolitan Police investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire that took place on June 14, 2017, which killed more than eighty people, including the young artist Khadija Saye. Vernon Rapley, the head of the unit from 2001 until 2010, said that he is “worried that the closure of the unit is now being considered. 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.” Claire Hutcheon, the detective sergeant who oversaw the team, left last year and has not been replaced.
The art and antiques unit was founded in 1969. Its London Stolen Art Database, which contains information on 54,000 looted items, is the world’s most valuable national police register of art, second only to that of Italy’s Carabinieri.
A representative for the Metropolitan Police said that Hayes, Clare, and Swan have only temporarily been transferred to the Grenfell Tower case, which he said is “one of the largest in the Met’s history and involves the use of detectives from a range of different units.” He also went on to say that Scotland Yard is “maintaining ongoing relationships with key partners in this interim period and will continue to investigate any allegations of crime relating to art or antiques.” When asked for a guarantee that the unit will indeed not be dissolved, the spokesman restated that the trio of detectives has been “temporarily transferred to the fire investigation.”