Saturday, 22 August 2015

Dr Asaad in Palmyra

We are sadded and upset at the execution of Dr Asaad in Palmyra. He was killed because he regarded the archaeological treasures of his homeland as more important than his life and how important this makes our fight to keep Sekhemka safe in order not to encourage looting, illegal selling and smuggling of antiquities to raise money for those involved in civil wars. We are lucky to be able to protest in a peaceful country and that we admire and respect all our academic fellows in war torn countries who daily risk life and limb to preserve their cultures for future generations.

Details about Dr Asaad can be found here:

Friday, 24 July 2015

Export ban expiry imminent but it is not too late.... yet


On 10 July 2014 the statue of the Ancient Egyptian civil servant Sekhemka, one of the jewels of Egyptian and World Art was sold to an anonymous buyer at Christie's in London for £15.76 million.  The sale of this irreplaceable part of the museum collection held in care for the public by Northampton Council was opposed by the Arts Council, the Museums Association, the Art Fund, and the International Council of Museums, as well as local people in Northampton [1].  

In just five days time on July 29 2015, a temporary export ban, placed on the statue by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, will expire and the buyer will be free to obtain an export licence and send Sekhemka anywhere in the world, possibly never to be seen in public again.

One of the principle reason for the international opposition to the sale was the increasing evidence that such sales benefit no-one except the international auction houses who see their profits increased and international terrorists and criminal gangs who fund their activities by trafficking and selling art and archaeological artefacts like the statue of Sekhemka.  If auction house prices rise, so do the profits of the criminal and terrorist traffickers and forgers [2] .

However, it is still not too late for you to turn Britain's shame in being party to such an unethical sale into pride at Britain working with the Egyptian people to make amends for this indelible stain on Britain's cultural reputation.  

We are asking you to make an urgent public intervention with Christie's and the buyer of the Sekhemka statue and ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to broker a binding agreement whereby the statue remains in the UK on free public display in a British museum.

We are also asking you to make clear that you deplore the sale of publicly held museum collections for profit in a way which can only drive up the prices and the rewards for such unethical behaviour.

The only thing preventing such an intervention is the will of the British Government to be seen to do the right thing, while your intervention will not just preserve a beautiful and uniquely evocative example of Egypt's ancient art and culture for the public and visitors to Britain to enjoy.  It will send a message that Britain cares about the cultural jewels it has in its care and will not in future allow them to be exploited for short term gain in a way which only encourages criminals, traffickers and terrorists to set out to loot and sell more.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Sekhemka Export Ban Statement


Following the Temporary Export ban imposed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Save Sekhemka Action Group are campaigning for an agreement whereby the buyer of the internationally important Egyptian Statue,  sold by Northampton Borough Council in 2014,  loans the statue to a major UK Museum where it can be once again placed on public display.
We will also continue our investigations into the legality of the original sale.


Background to the statement

In July 2014 the then Leader of Northampton Borough Council (NBC), Councillor David Mackintosh [i], defied national and international advice and breached internationally held codes of museum ethics to sell Northampton’s equivalent to the Elgin Marbles, the 4,500 years old statue of the Egyptian Royal Scribe, Sekhemka, by auction at Christie’s in London.  The statue was sold to an unknown overseas buyer who paid a World Record Price of £15.76 million.[ii] 

The Department of Culture, Media and Sports has now clamped a temporary ban on the export of the statue.[iii] Such a temporary ban is meant to help groups who wish to retain the statue in the UK to either raise funds for its purchase, or to come up with other plans to enable the statue to be retained on public display in the UK.

The Save Sekhemka Action Group [SSAG] have opposed the sale since October 2012 when it first became clear that the protests and warnings from the Friends of Northampton Museums & Art Gallery (FNMAG) would be ignored by Cllr Mackintosh and NBC.  FNMAG and the Action Group repeatedly warned that the accreditation of Northampton’s museums would be lost and with it access all outside funding which required accreditation, including the Heritage Lottery Fund.  We were right.  Accreditation was stripped from Northampton’s Museums immediately after the sale and the Borough has already missed out on tens of thousands of pounds in grant funding.[iv]

We objected to the commercial sale of the statue of Sekhemka because it was immoral, unethical and unprofessional.  However, our research also leads us to suggest the legality of the sale is also doubtful.  The Deed of Gift of 1880 under which Sekhemka and other Egyptian artefacts as well as geological collections were given to Northampton Corporation by the 4th Marquis of Northampton made the gift on condition they were always on display and never sold –in either case the collections would then revert to the Compton family.  Thus Sekhemka  may not even have been NBC’s to sell

Given the very serious legal and ethical questions which continue to cloud the sale of Sekhemka, the Save Sekhemka Action Group intend to tackle the present issue on three fronts:

a) We will NOT be part of ANY fundraising attempt to buy the statue from the present owner.

To do so would be to risk giving legitimacy to similar sales contemplated by other Local Authorities.  Instead we advocate the negotiation of a LONG TERM LOAN of the statue to one of the UK’s major museums where it can be seen at all times by the public and where it will be cared for properly.  We will actively pursue this aim with Arts Council England, the Museums Association, the Art Fund, and all relevant professional museum bodies

b) We will also seek to establish once and for all the legality of the sale.

We will do this through our research into the records in Egypt in order to ascertain whether the statue was legally exported in 1850, and into the records of Northampton Borough Council to expose the legal and financial arrangements Cllr Mackintosh reached with the Marquis of Northampton.

c) We will also ask DCMS and Arts Council England to investigate whether Northampton Borough Council misled Christie’s as to the true ownership of the statue and whether Christie’s undertook due diligence in accepting the artefact for sale. 

Northampton Borough Council claimed to be the owner of the statue on the sale agreement with Christie’s and a senior NBC Officer signed the agreement to this effect.[v]  However, the Museums Association disciplinary procedure found that the issue of ownership was far from settled and NBC did not indisputably own the statue.[vi] This puts into question the entire legality of the sale. 


We ask: 
  • What was the deal whereby Lord Northampton agreed not to challenge the sale and agreed to relinquish his legal right to the statue?
  • Why, when NBC told Christie’s that they owned Sekhemka, signed a sales agreement stating this and paid all the sales fees and premiums, was the Marquis of Northampton then paid over £6 million of public money?[vii]

  • Was the £50,000+ which NBC spent on legal expenses in an apparently abortive attempt to show it owned Sekhemka a misuse of public money which in the end only benefited a private individual to the tune of over £6 million?
Our determination to get to the bottom of the sale of Sekhemka is re-enforced by the fact that we were advised that we had a case for a Judicial Review. And because our attempts to investigate these matters have been repeatedly frustrated due to what we regard as a spurious application of commercial confidentiality.  Commercial confidentiality cannot apply to the sale of an object owned by the public.  Instead it is an issue of the proper ACCOUNTABILITY OF PERSONS IN PUBLIC OFFICE.


The Action Group does appreciate the powerful message sent to museums by ACE and the Museums Association regarding sales from public collections – we hope it will work.  Sadly we think it might be too little too late and it certainly did not help in the Sekhemka case.


What is undoubtedly true is that the actions of Councillor Mackintosh and his administration have left the reputation of Northampton in shreds.



Gunilla Loe


Save Sekhemka Action Group


[i] Currently Conservative PPC for the Constituency of Northampton South
[v] Sales Agreement released under the Freedom of Information Act

Monday, 30 March 2015

UK Government issues Export Ban on Sekhemka Statue!

It has been announced today that Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has said that Sekhemka will not be allowed to leave the country.

The BBC are reporting that "Mr Vaizey made the decision following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by Arts Council England."

The BBC also quote the RCEWA who are reported to have said that the statue was of "outstanding aesthetic importance" and was significant in the study of "the development of private statuary and funerary religion in Egypt and the history of human self-representation".

The Save Sekhemka Action Group are delighted that the Government has imposed a temporary export ban on the Statue of Sekhemka and we fervently hope that this will be upheld as a permanent ban on 29 July and Sekhemka, an internationally important work of Egyptian Art, will find a home in a public museum where it belongs.

The decision of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) to recommend the ban, not only vindicates our position as to the importance of Sekhemka as a work of art, but also provides much needed clarity as, until now today's announcement, we were not even able to establish that the buyer was from outside the UK.  This was because while the statue is of international importance, was owned by the people of Northampton and was sold by a publicly accountable body, their Council, the process was carried out behind the cloak of privacy and commercial confidentiality.

If the statue of Sekhemka is to be lost to the people of Northampton who enjoyed it for over one hundred years we would like to see Sekhemka retained in the UK.  The only problem is WHERE and HOW it could be retained and displayed since the sale itself was unethical and there is evidence it was also of doubtful legality.  As a consequence none of the UK's major museums wished to acquire it unless it was GIVEN outright - a public body cannot buy something owned by another public body, it is unethical and a misapplication of public money.

We also understand that the Art Fund was outraged when we told them about the proposed sale and declared they would not then help raise funds for a purchase.

Northampton Borough Council committed an act of great folly selling the statue of Sekhmeka.  Even greater was the folly when NBC agreed to buy off Lord Northampton to the tune of £7m thus halving their profit, rather than submitting to a transparent legal clarification of the statue's actual ownership. Now the consequences of this folly are even more apparent: Northampton museums have lost their Accreditation and with that all access to outside funding resulting in a loss of about a third of their income ( in our estimation) - This is not a good position from which to contemplate an extension to the Central Museum.

The Action Group will actively work to uphold the export ban through our many contacts and explore ways of how the statue can be kept in the UK.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Lottery Grant for Northampton Shoe Exhibition Rejected

So with the Sekhemka sale money in the bank the question now is how long will it last with funding options disappearing one by one.

The consequences of the unethical actions of Northampton Borough Council are now being made clear as this week we learn that a £250k application for money to support our shoe collection has been refused.

The damage is already done - we tried to tell NBC, they wouldn't listen.
According to the articles below, a council spokesman said: “While disappointed, we do understand that organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund have a duty to bring as many projects to fruition as possible and reach the widest possible audience, which means in this round Northampton has missed out. We will continue to expand our collection to provide excellent exhibitions and tell the story of Northampton as we welcome visitors to our town.”
Heritage Lottery Firm have though confirmed the bid was ineligible due to not having Arts Council Accreditation and dismissed the borough council’s suggestion it had not received any money because applicataions for this fund were oversubscribed.
Apparently NBC have replied saying: “We were told that our bid was too much for the size of project and understand also that the fund was oversubscribed. We were not told we were ineligible and as far as we are aware accreditation is not a condition of Heritage Lottery Funding.”

The Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund have rules and ethics requirements clearly laid out for good reason.
NBC have created this situation. Who loses out? The people of Northampton.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Farewell Of The Save Sekhemka Action Group

On 10 July 2014 the Sekhemka Statue was sold to an unknown buyer at Christie’s for a gross sum of £16m.  The Action group still does not know who the buyer is or to which country the statue will go.
This sale took place despite the Action Group’s two year campaign to stop it, a campaign that did attract support from ordinary Northampton people as well as eminent academic and museum professionals.
During our campaign we pointed out time and again the consequences of a sale for Northampton Borough Council (NBC) and its museums.  These warnings were ignored by the NBC Cabinet and its Leader, Cllr David Mackintosh, and by the Chief Executive, David Kennedy, and the Director of Cultural and Customer Services, Julie Seddon.
The Museums have lost their Accreditation and membership of the Museums Association (MA) which means that they will no longer be able to receive outside funding from Arts Council England (ACE) or the Heritage Lottery Fund; this is demoralising for the museum staff and places the possibility of the extension to the Central Museum in jeopardy.
The Action Group has reached the end of the road, there are no further effective actions we can take.  However, as a result of our campaigning ACE and the MA are looking at strengthening the rules on the disposal of museum collections and the ethical responsibilities of Local Authorities who have museums in their care;  the academic world is debating their role in caring for collections.
The Action Group will keep its website and face book page open and UPDATED on ALL developments.  We are also supporting research by various Egyptian institutions regarding the legality of the 2nd Marquess of Northampton’s purchase and export of the statue in 1850; was it in accordance with the then Egyptian laws on antique artefacts since there is, as far as we know, no documentation on this in the UK? If the purchase and export of Sekhemka can be proved to be illegal the Egyptian authorities would like the statue repatriated – an outcome the Action Group would welcome unless a major British museum would act as a custodian on behalf of Egypt.
The members of the Action Group are sad that our two years of work did not have a more positive outcome; we are very grateful for all the support given by the public, the museum world, ACE and the MA and we fervently hope that our disappointment will not result in other action groups holding back in their campaigns – go for it and think positively.
Gunilla Loe
Chair of the Save Sekhemka Action Group
Northampton 30 October 2014

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Northampton Museums Service barred from Museums Association membership

Northampton Museums Service has been barred from Museum Association membership for at least five years.

David Fleming, chairman of the MA's Ethics Committee, said: “We do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the MA's Code of Ethics provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored. At a time when public finances are pressured it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest. Museums have a duty to hold their collections in trust for society. They should not treat their collections as assets to be monetised for short-term gain."

We wholeheartedly agree and have been saying this for many months. Sadly the worst has happened for Northampton's museums.

You can read the decision in full here: