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

[iii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-32117427
[iv] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-29903549
[v] Sales Agreement released under the Freedom of Information Act
[vi] http://www.museumsassociation.org/news/01102014-ma-bars-northampton
[vii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-28260067