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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.99

Ecclesiastical urges heritage organisations to be vigilant following National Gallery Just Stop Oil attack

In response to Just Stop Oil activists smashing the glass cover of Diego Velazquez's The Rokeby Venus painting at the National Gallery, Ecclesiastical is urging heritage organisations to be vigilant.  

Today, two Just Stop Oil activists were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage after they used safety hammers to smash the glass protecting The Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery in Central London. 

Ecclesiastical is encouraging heritage organisations to be vigilant and take proactive steps to protect artwork and exhibits from further attacks. 

Faith Kitchen, Customer Segment Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “As the UK’s leading insurer of Grade I listed buildings, we’re passionate about protecting Britain’s heritage. These types of attacks put irreplaceable artworks at risk of significant damage. There are a number of measures heritage organisations can take to help protect art from attacks by protestors. Inspecting bags at entrances and exits and installing proximity alarm systems can help to deter attackers. It is also vital that staff and volunteers are trained to recognise and report unusual visitor behaviour. We urge heritage organisations to be vigilant and review their security arrangements.” 

How to protect artwork and exhibits from attacks:   

  • Position stewards in any high-risk areas so they can promptly respond to any incident. 
  • Train staff and volunteers to recognise unusual visitor behaviour. Perpetrators may plan their attack, completing reconnaissance visits first. Suspicious or abnormal activity should be immediately reported to security or senior staff. 
  • Stewarding arrangements should include bag inspections at entry point and exit points from the premises.  
  • Consider introducing arrangements for visitor bags to be deposited at entry, to restrict the potential use of materials or objects that may cause damage. 
  • Introduce a visitor behaviour code on what is expected from them during the visit, including no touching of exhibits. The code should indicate visitors might be asked to leave if they do not comply.         
  • Paintings of particular note should be protected by a glazed panel to help minimise damage from an attack.  
  • Items of significant value or interest could be roped off to act as a physical barrier. These areas can be supplemented by proximity alarm systems providing immediate alerts to a steward if an area is encroached.  
  • Restrict visitor numbers by only allowing a maximum number of people in an area at any one time. 
  • CCTV can provide a valuable deterrent against damage or theft. System recordings should be retained for at least 30 days. 
  • Adequate lighting can discourage criminal actions especially in areas less frequently visited or patrolled. Sensors can highlight movement in these areas drawing the attention of stewards and security staff. 
  • Arrange for stewards to check the condition of items before the premises open or close to identify any damage that may have incurred during the last 24 hours with a view to introducing additional precautions or even removing the artwork. 

Ecclesiastical Insurance offers a range of risk management support and guidance to help heritage organisations manage the risks they face. For more information visit www.ecclesiastical.com/riskmanagement