Action in the case of theft, accidental or criminal damage

Follow these instructions if your collection has been subject to theft, accidental or criminal damage.

First steps

It needs to be established that the object has actually been stolen or damaged either intentionally or accidentally. In cases of suspected theft enquiry needs to be made to ensure that it has not been removed from display for cleaning, renovation, study or change of exhibition without proper notification. A search of the premises may show that the item has been removed from display and hidden to be collected later.

Any recovered items or damaged items should be left where found until examined by police but must be protected, if necessary by closing and locking the gallery/building. Emergency precautions may be necessary to avoid further damage to the items or injury to persons.


A conservator’s advice must be taken immediately to minimise any effect of damage. The Institute of Conservation leaflet ‘Find a Conservator’ should be used to contact a suitably experienced conservator from The Conservation Register. Existing condition reports should be annotated to show the extent of damage. In the absence of a report one must be prepared. Photographs, with a scaled ruler alongside, should be taken of the damage, in situ if possible. Photographs need to pay particular attention to the area of damage and the effect of the damage both physically and visually in relation to the whole object.

No remedial conservation work should be undertaken before informing the lender and the Manager of the Government Indemnity Scheme at Arts Council England (in the case of indemnified material), unless emergency action is essential to prevent further damage. If this action is taken, it must be fully documented. A copy of this report will be required if an insurance claim arises from this incident.

Police report

If a crime occurs it will need to be reported to the police without delay using the 999 emergency system whether the person responsible has been detained or has fled the scene. Pending the arrival of police anything said by the person detained should be noted. Names and addresses of all witnesses, including staff, are to be recorded and every effort made to persuade them to remain at the scene pending the arrival of the police, without personal risk being taken.

The police are to be supplied with all necessary information including full description and photographs of stolen items. The name of the police officer and police station dealing with the incident should be recorded.

The following are to be notified giving details of the incident:

  • Museum management.
  • Owner of the stolen/ damaged artefact.
  • Arts Council England (ACE) (Manager of the Government Indemnity Scheme and Security Adviser in the case of indemnified material).
  • Insurance company (if relevant).
Recovery of the property

Close and early consideration must be given to seeking publicity (with the agreement of the owner) from national and local media to assist in recovering stolen items. This course of action may bring unwelcome pressure from the media, but this needs to be balanced against the likelihood that publicity will increase the chances of the items being recovered. Even if publicity is not sought a prepared statement to assist in meeting press enquiries can prove to be very useful.

Consideration needs to be given to placing advertisements with:

Invaluable Group Ltd.
Mill Court
Isle of Wight
PO30 2AA
Tel: 01983 826000

Antiques Trade Gazette
115 Shaftesbury Avenue
Tel: 020 7420 6600

Art Loss Register
12 Grosvenor Place
Tel: 020 7235 3393

PO Box 28080
SE27 0RH
Tel: 020 8761 2316
Web: (architectural or garden antiques).

The Cultural Property Advice website

Any association or magazine that specialises in the particular type of object stolen, e.g. gun or coin collectors magazines.

If approaches are received offering to return the stolen objects for a reward, the police investigating officer should be contacted immediately. An offer should not be rejected immediately but every effort made to play for time even to the extent of suggesting a meeting.

If stolen objects are recovered the police, owners, ACE and the insurance company (as relevant) will need to be notified.

Acccidental or criminal damage

In the case of accidental damage it will not be necessary to report the matter to the police nor seek publicity.

You can:

  • Report on the cause of damage including details of security and display arrangements or environmental conditions as relevant.
  • Illustrations/ photographs before and after damage.
  • Condition reports before and after damage.
  • Details of any emergency action/conservation undertaken to prevent further damage.
  • If the damage was caused during transit, the name of the carrier, details of packing and transport arrangements should be provided.
  • Conservation work should be commissioned by following the ‘Guidelines for the Commissioning and Undertaking of Conservation Work?’ prepared by The Conservation Forum.
  • Only after the work has been carried out can a claim for depreciation be considered.
  • Report on loss including details of security and display arrangements and police report (if available).
  • If the loss was caused during transit, the name of the carrier, details of packing and transport arrangements should be provided.

Date created: 2013

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust