January 31, 2012

Antiques Trade Gazette Reports that "iPhone Raid" Involved the Use of a Smartphone to Select Artwork in Heist in Northern Ireland

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, Editor-in-Chief

Recently art thieves used a presumed iPhone in a robbery in Northern Ireland to select art during a robbery, and one art recovery expert expects more use of technology with even the release of the iPad 3.

Museum Security Network distributed an article yesterday from the Antiques Trade Gazette that reported "Violent Raid saw art expert direct gang by smart phone" in Northern Ireland on January 3:
"In what is being dubbed the iPhone raid, the two men with Irish accents used a third party to assist them with the robbery after forcing their way into a Co Armagh home. Beaten, bound and gagged, the victim watched as a 'smart' phone was used to film his collection. The videos were immediately sent to an apparently knowledgeable accomplice who then advised the thieves on what to steal and what to leave behind."
The unnamed victim "a retired vicar and well known at major art sales", according to the Antiques Trade Gazette, "Among the stolen items from what has been called a world-class art collection were two paintings by Canaletto, exceptional antique furniture and other chattels."

I emailed Christopher Marinello at the Art Loss Register and asked him what was the same or different about this theft. This is his response:
While it is interesting from the viewpoint of the i Phone technology used, it is, in my opinion, nothing more than the time honored practice of low level crooks doing the dirty work for a more sophisticated criminal. 
Many of the major art thefts that took place in the late 1960's and 1970's were committed by drug addicts paid by others to smash and grab their way through various galleries. The low level criminal would be paid small amounts of cash or drugs and would turn over the stolen art to a small gang leader who would then attempt to sell the items or demand a ransom for their return.

While this is the first published case of an iPhone being used, I have no doubt that the practice will continue or even expand after the release of the anticipated iPad 3. But let's not forget that any images sent via the internet or by a mobile device are traceable. Clearly, these crooks are not thinking about the big picture.