Pottery


gone

This article is a follow up to this article exploring the aftermath of the 2013 Riesco sale
my many vexatious complaints to Government organisations
and a vague attempt to identify which of the
89 lost and 39 stolen pieces of the collection
existed when and at what time ...and indeed where they may be found
and if anyone called the PoPo
(spoilers : short answers dunno and no)

In November 2013 Croydon Council sold 24 pieces of the Riesco Collection - a large volume of ceramic pottery ....



...left to Croydon Council by eccentric millionaire and businessman
Raymond Riesco.... 



...donated to the Corporation on the condition that they were not split up...


...at Christie's in Hong Kong.  Of course this isn't the first time Christies has been accused of dealing in stolen works of Chinese art ...and it wont be the last.  Apart from the Riesco sale possibly the most high profile sale of knocked off artifacts in recent times is probably 2 bronze fountainheads that were looted from Beijing's Summer Palace during the second Opium War in 1860.   These somehow came into the possession of
Yves Saint Laurent, the late fashion designer and when he popped it they were flogged by Christie's for £14 million each. 



Said protestor against the sale Jackie Chan: "This behaviour is shameful. They remain looted items, no matter whom they were sold to. Whoever took it out (of China) is himself a thief. It was looting yesterday. It is still looting today."

Yes, Christie's have form...


Fortunately the Riesco collection china was manufactured mainly for export so there is very little danger that it might have been looted except by Croydon Council its self. 



Those who could be bothered to read the previous article may remember Tim Pollard's famous statement on the Croydon Citizen website that the Council is absolutely sure that it owns all the items...



... and that there were no conditions applied to the gift Mr Riesco made to the council.  You can read the full text of the original agreement between Mr Riesco and the Council by downloading the PDF here of the original agreement as retrieved from the council by FOI by Mr David White @davidwhite020 and in the absence of any legal training just let your imagination run riot. 


In short Mr Riesco did a deal with the corporation whereby he gave them Heathfield House, some land and his collection of porcelain and in return ... the Treasury agreed to exempt him from paying some death duties.  This meant that when he died his collection and some of his property went to the Corporation of Croydon instead of a huge tax bill from the Treasury going to his widow.  One almost gets the impression reading about the saga via the various documents available that actually the Council didn't either want or give a toss about the collection just his money. 



The promise that the collection once moved from Heathfield House would be displayed adequately elsewhere was never honoured fully.  Following on from an initial exhibition in the Arnhem Gallery of the Fairfield Halls in the 1960s  (the Halls were build in 1962) a small percentage (147 items) was put on permanent display at Fairfield until the Museum of Croydon opened and was able top display considerably more in the new Clocktower building in 1994.  During this period 457 items were put "in storage". 



With the opening of the Clocktower and some National Lottery money a Museum and a new room was built specifically to house the Riesco collection in 2006.   Following the closure of the Braithwaite Hall in 2011 when its funding was cut by the Council, the Clocktower it lost its Arts Council RFO status.  The National Lottery grants database lives here and reveals that since 1996 the Museums service has recieved £1,061,950 in Lottery Grants.  The bulk of which was in 2003.

In the mean time Croydon Council had flogged off
180 pieces in 1970 and 112 were sold in 1984.  39 were "stolen at an unspecified date".  And 89 are just "missing".  So where are these other pieces?



The reason the 2013 sale was more controversial than previous sales was that the pieces remaining had gone from just being in a council building to being in a Museum so selling them was a breach of the Museums Asscoiations code of ethics.  And, of course, there are now visibly less items on display in the Riesco room.  The attempt to take the decision to Judicial Review ran out of both money and time.  Of course to properly interpret if these sales were legal you'd probably have to have his will to hand and stuff but...




"The Council does not hold a copy of Mr. Raymond Riesco’s Will, however the Council does hold copies of agreements entered into regarding its purchase of Heathfield House, (and surrounding land in Addington) and a collection of Oriental China known as the as the Reisco Collection. Please find attached copies of those agreements entered into between the Council, Mr. Raymond Riesco (dated 1945 and 1959) and his personal representatives (dated 1964). The report of the Corporate Services Committee dated 24 July 2013, can be found here: https://secure.croydon.gov.uk/akscroydon/images/att2420.pdf"



So there are, as far as we are aware no written agreements post dating 1959 with the Riesco family held by the Council and the Council has no copy of his will.  There may be verbal agreements though and I'm sure a verbal agreement is fine when parting with several million.  Mind you when I asked the specific question "So are you saying that apart from the documents attached the Council has no other legal agreements with other members of the Riesco family either in writing or verbally?" of Mr Nigel Spalding Libraries and Culture Project Officer Children, Families and Learning the reply I got was a rather alarming: "Yes, that is correct".






Even assuming the Council does owned the extant items outright there's then also the surreal accusation by the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society and the Museums Asscoiation that:

"According to council records, out of the original collection, 180 pieces were sold in 1970, 112 were sold in 1984 and 39 were stolen at an unspecified date.  This leaves 89 items apparently missing with no record as to their whereabouts.  Regarding the 39 stolen items, it is unclear when the theft was detected or what steps were taken to recover the objects"
.



This is such an extraordinary claim I asked the Council if they could clarify the situation further.  Perhaps give some time window to the theft may have occurred in or when the pieces might have gone missing.  Were the 89 objects lost before or after the collection was moved to the Clocktower from the Fairfield Halls for example?  They responded along the lines that the data that there was was already in the public domain... somewhere in the Local Studies Library.   After asking former leader of Council and ex-Croydon Central MP Geriant Davies what he could remember about the number of pieces ...



...I eventually pottered down the Local Studies Library (now in part of what used to be the Museum of Croydon ...just past the Riesco Room on the ground floor of the Clocktower) myself to view this data where the curator Mr Sam Smith supplied me  with the following copies of the original catalogues which I gave a peruse. 

As I passed the Riesco china room I also noticed that without any seeming irony at all the council are now displaying only a single object in the vast main central display case.  So here for posterity (picture stolen from the Council) is what the cabinet used to look like when it had more than one thing in it:




Obviously actually cross referencing every single item in the catalogues would involve me spending every Saturday in the Local Studies Library but here's what I could work out with very little thought.  There are several different versions of the catalogue from different times in the collections history.  They are:

1

Facsimile copies of  Riesco’s own handwritten catalogues.  This is a 3 volume list of the original collection before it was given to the council.  Not all of Riesco’s China went to the Council – some went to other museums.  Originally some 909 pieces existed.  Some were given to the V and A, some to ...well, who knows without a copy of his will...?

2

A catalogue by
Sir Harry Garner (1964) This one is blue and does not have a name on it but by a process of elimination I deduced that it must be the Garner catalog.   We know that 25 are definitely stolen (see below)  - this leaves 103.  If 39 have been stolen (as stated in the Council’s 2013 statement) then 89 are missing.  This matches the Coucil’s 2013 statement.





It is typed with some interesting pencil notes at the top.





Written at the bottom of the cover page on the right hand side in coloured ink are the words:
“25 Stolen, 168 Fairfield, 457 store”



According to the Council 39 items were “stolen at an unspecified date”.  So why would this volume record only 25 being stolen?  Were there actually two or more thefts?  Or is there a numbering issue whereby more than one physical item constitutes more than one catalogue item (for example a pair of plates or a set of cups?).

3

A sale catalogue by Sotheby’s (1970).  Lists 180 pieces sold at auction.  These are presumably the 180 pieces sold in 1970.  Taking the original collection to be 650 pieces this depleted the collection to 470.

4

A catalogue of the permanent collection at Fairfield Halls by Anthony Woolfenden (September 1984).  This catalogue is typed and lists 617 pieces although the last 5 pages note at the bottom that they have been “hand amended in 1985”.  Obviously this list was compiled in preparation of the later sale in December 1984 of 112 of the items.  This catalogue doesn’t seem to have been made for external consumption.  Maybe some pages are missing but even accounting for the 25 “stolen” items this leaves the question – where are the other 8 of the 33 difference between 650 and 617?  Were they stolen while the 457 items were in storage?  Anyway it appears there were still as many as 617 items as late as 1984.  By 1987...



5

A sale catalogue by Sotheby’s (December 1984) This catalog contains items for sale from the Croydon Riesco collection and other items being flogged off by the V and A during the era when Mrs Thatcher started charging us entry to such places.  112 items were sold from the Riesco collection in 1984.  This should deplete the collection to 358 items (25->33 of which are stolen).

6

A handlist by Anthony Woolfenden (1987) This published hand booklet puts the collection at 202 pieces.  Maybe this doesn’t include stolen pieces?  Or pieces in store?  Maybe some pieces are counted twice? But the collections stays at 202 items from now on.  According to the council’s statement to the Croydon Natural History and scientific society 230 pieces remained in council ownership in early 2013 before the latest sale.


In short the 89 "lost" pieces were lost some time between 1984-1987




7

A catalogue by Clayton (1991) This list collated in anticipation of the transfer of the collection from the Fairfield H alls to the new Croydon Clocktower puts the collection at 202 items and describes problems with the design of the old cases along with suggestions on  the design of the new cases.

8

A schedule of the collection on display at the Fairfield Halls by Bluett and Sons (1992) This list puts the collection at 202 items and estimates the value of the collection at £1,696,550

9

A catalogue by Rosemary Kerr (1993) This also list puts the collection at 202 items

10

A sale catalogue by Christie’s (2013) and "our current catalogue which I can export for you from our database...".



So who can we blame for the lost and stolen items?  Or failing that who's responsibility should it have been?  The Council says it has no idea who is to blame for the loss and misplacement of the items so ...er ... perhaps some of the following people might know the answers :

Lord Bowness (above) was the Conservative leader of the Council during the period the 89 missing pieces china went walkies.  Of course these lost pieces may not be stolen - merely misplaced.  Perhaps lent to another institution and never returned ... or stored somewhere and forgotten. 



Perhaps they have been sent to Warehouse 51 in the Nevada desert along with the Ark of the Covenant ...or perhaps the UK has a similar facility on an industrial estate somewhere.  Perhaps they are in a government office at the moment ignored by the potentate who walks past them every day.  But anyway I've emailed him and he writes...

Dear Mr. Miller,

Thank you for your message. I recall the decision to sell items from what was then described as the reserve collection and of course the decision to house the collection in the special gallery in the Museum but as to your specific questions in the last two paragraphs of your message


Which I Presume were:

Can you think of anyone who might know where these items might be?

It seems very odd that a Council can just lose several million pounds worth of priceless porcelain.  However, the council has “no records” other than those we have discovered in the local studies library?


I am unable to help you.
Yours sincerely

LORD BOWNESS CBE DL
House of Lords
Westminster
London SW1A 0PW



Anthony Woolfenden the curator of the collection from 1984 to 1987 might also have a clue if he is still with us?

What about Sir Harry Garner?  Well, possibly he's a bit of a dead end as far as information goes having passed on in 1977.  But a lot of these people seem to be connected by the Oriental Ceramic Society so maybe someone involved with them knows something...?

Leaving aside the fact we dont actually know how many pieces were on display at the Fairfield Halls at any one time and which were in store but assuming that they're the same pieces most of the time that gives us a graph of pieces that (and bare in mind there are error bars on this of up to 30 pieces) may look something like this:



I've put the estimated size of the total number of pieces possessed by the council at the bottom of each column in brackets.  Of course if there was a theft someone might have called the PoPo ...so I asked the PoPo or two if anyone had reported the theft of the "stolen" items at the time. 




They said...

Following receipt of your request searches were conducted within the MPS to locate information relevant to your request.

EXTENT OF SEARCHES TO LOCATE INFORMATION

To locate the information relevant to your request searches were conducted within the Arts and Antiques Unit, Records Management Branch and Croydon Borough.

RESULT OF SEARCHES

The searches failed to locate any information relevant to your request, therefore, the information you have requested is not held by the MPS.



Regarding the last sentence of your request which states - "If not I would like to call on the police to investigate this matter - I think I did mention it to my safer Neighbourhood team but I'm not sure they thought I was entirely serious." If you would like to make an allegation that a crime has taken place, please either attend the front counter of any police station or visit the MPS website at www.met.police.uk or alternatively you could write to the Borough Commander of Croydon direct at Croydon Police Station, CR9 1BP, and report a crime.

Freedom of Information is not the correct medium to make an allegation of a crime as it is regarded as a public request. 


...no.  The Council haven't even bothered to contact the Arts and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police in the hope that, as Micawber might way, ....



.... "something's bound to turn up".  Gavin Barwell MP writing from the email address of deselected ex-Mayor Eddy Arram (so it could be Mario Creatura as virtually everyone uses Gavin's email and twitter account when he's not using theirs) writes:




Photofit of sender:
Eddy Gavin Mario Creatrura Arram Barwell


Dear Mr Miller,

In your email to me of the 22nd November 2013 you raised two issues relating to the Riesco collection held by Croydon Council – the auctioning of 25 items from the collection and the alleged disappearance of 89 items.

With regards to the 25 items of the collection recently auctioned, in an ideal world the Council would retain the whole collection, but given that:-

a)    the items concerned are too expensive to insure [the items were never insured anyway.  Of course you could look to other Museum would want to take on responsibility for them - for example the British Museum made a big deal of exhibiting the Cloisonné vase commissioned by Zhu Zhanji (Ming emperor from 1426 to 1435) back in April 2013.  This was not sold in 2013 ...so presumably still has to be insured?  What exactly was sold and at what price is listed here.]
b)    it is no longer feasible to display these 25 items [the empty display case tells a different story]
c)    the Fairfield Halls are in need of investment; and [this is true; but]
d)     far more people benefit from arts provision at the Fairfield Halls than would view the collection even if it was all on display I can see why the Council has reached this decision.


Over 200 items of the Riesco collection will remain in the ownership of Croydon Council. These items will be displayed in the Riesco Gallery at the Clock Tower on a rotation basis.

It would seem by the empty cabinet that the turntable is at present broken but leaving aside the absurdity of the attempt to evaluate performing arts which are by nature ephemeral with fine art that is by its nature concrete ... the Council's statement that it desperately needs the money to refurbish the Fairfield Halls would seem somewhat at odds with its sudden decision pre the May 22 local elections to offer everyone a £25 rebate off their Council Tax.



£25 may not sound much but if there are 149,700 households in Croydon then the Council has just given away £3,742,500.  Erm ... if you sell the Riesco china for £6,450,000 then ... that's half the sum that Cllr Mike Fisher has just given away. 



If it intends to freeze Council Tax at this new lower level for 4 years that would be £14,970,000 in lost revenue.  One does wonder what other services are going to be cut in order to achieve these magical Council Tax cuts.  Not that all Tories are intrinsically wedded to a mantra of low taxation beyond the point of any logic.  One might also wonder why the problem of re-housing the collection more safely (if there is one) was not addressed when then Council decided to build it's self a new HQ at the cost of £140,000,000.


As far as the ‘lost’ 89 items are concerned,  you mention in your email that you are going back some 40 years or so.  Croydon Council are aware of the suggestion that 89 items were handed over to the Council and have since gone missing, hence they have undertaken considerable research in the Council’s records. Unfortunately there are some gaps in the records held by Croydon Council going back that length of time and pre date the knowledge and employment of the present staff. Consequently the Council do not hold and are therefore unable to provide you with any details on this issue.



[Since I have managed to narrow the time window of the dematerialisation down to 30 years do we get a re-evaluation of this?  Clearly also the Council did hold information on this issue (because I found it) they just couldn't be arsed to look for it and have displayed a herculean lack of curiosity.  Also we have managed to identify at least one person who's job it was to curate the collection - was this beyond the Council?]

I am sorry that I am unable to clarify or resolve the issue of the ‘lost’ 89 items.  As you will see from the information that Croydon Council have given me, the Police will take the view that there is no evidence that a criminal offence has taken place with regards to these items.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Barwell


It is good and enlightening to know that Gavin Barwell knows the mind of the Police before they know it themselves.





Of course because 89 items are missing does not mean they are stolen.  But if 39 items are stolen then one might suggest that there was indeed at some point a crime even if the likelihood of catching anyone for it is minimal because it was a long time ago and they were middle class.

As to the items sold in 1970, 1984 and 2013 although the Council does not seem keen to prove they own them they are not actually stolen.  However even if we accept the fact they might not be stolen this does not fully close the issues around their provenance -  provenance is an important  part of the value of such items and some buyers would we interested in whether the items were obtained "ethically" ...not everyone wants to purchase art works merely as an "expensive gloat".  I dont think I am stretching credulity to say it is possible that  in some cases the question as to provenance (whether the items being disposed of are being disposed of ethically) may affect how much the items would fetch at auction. 



So it's possible them that misleading statements by Cllr Tim Pollard (or "Pollardisms" as they are known in Chavdon) should not be featured in their advertising of the collection.  Inspired by the success of Mr Peter Jonas's campaign against Inkey Jones I put in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority on the basis that the Christies website insinuated that the items were purchased from Riesco when in fact they were a giftThey replied that although the Christie's website may contain clearly misleading statements ...

Dear Mr Miller

Christies Inc

Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority.

As you may know, we recently began to regulate some material on companies’ own websites or in other non-paid-for online space under their control.  The CAP Code now applies to any online marketing messages or direct appeals for donations in such space.  However, some online material remains outside the ASA’s remit, including:

-    editorial content
-    news or public relations material
-    corporate reports
-    natural listings on search engines and price comparison sites
-    material directed at the financial community (shareholders, investors etc.) and
-    “heritage advertising”, i.e. obsolete advertising that it not part of a current campaign and is placed in an appropriate context on the company’s website.

The material to which you object is a press release and as such, is not covered by the Code.  I note that your concerns also relate to the legality of the sale of certain items, which, as a non-statutory organisation, we would not be able to comment on.  We therefore cannot take any action on your complaint, but if you would like to pursue the matter, you may wish to contact the Citizens Advice consumer service for free, confidential and impartial advice.  You can contact their helpline on 08454 040506 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm) or you can find further information at www.adviceguide.org.uk.

I hope you find this useful and are able to pursue your complaint.  Our website, www.asa.org.uk, contains more information about the ASA and the work we do.

Yours sincerely

Jo Davis
Complaints Executive


Follow us on twitter: @ASA_UK

 

Legal, decent, honest? and truthful

...these are fine as the pages on which they featured were not "advertising" but "editorial".

Ms Davies,

I dispute that it is a press release – I would state that it is clearly an advertisement for the sale in the same way that http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com/Listings.htm this page is an advert for ticket sales …not just a press release about comedy listings

http://www.christies.com/lotfinder...

The page exists as a sales promotion for the collection.  To argue that it is divorced from the purpose of advertisement is nonsensical.  Perhaps then we can complain about the actual sale listings which are economical with the truth to the point of deception reading:

“The majority of the remaining pieces from Riesco's Chinese ceramic collection were acquired by the London Borough of Croydon when the Council purchased Mr Riesco's home, Heathfield House, and surrounding land in Addington, south London, following his death in 1964.”

This gives a misleading impression to the buyer that the property is not the subject of a specific bequest and that there were no Caveats placed on the Bequest …suggesting that the council “just happened to come into ownership” of the China via the purchase of Heathfield House.  In fact the Council's own website said it was a bequest and there is a condition of that bequest that the collection should not be split up.  The page http://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society...

"In 1958, Riesco made another agreement with the Corporation under which he would make a gift of his collection of Oriental China, complete with 15 showcases and a collection of etchings - mezzotints and watercolours,to the Corporation on the condition that they were not split up."

http://www.croydon.gov.uk/leisure/parksandopenspaces/parksatoz/heathfield/hfhistory

You can see this page has now been edited by the council as a result of my pointing out these words in public
But they have forgotten to delete the paragraph that follows
“Due to lack of security at Heathfield the Riesco collection was moved to Fairfield Halls in Croydon. Those parts of the collection still on show are housed in a gallery in Croydon Clocktower.”
With the result that the article now makes no logical sense.  The original paragraph that has been deleted can be viewed here
http://web.archive.org...

It is misleading advertising to inform people that the acquisition of the pieces by the Council is simply the result of the purchase of Heathfield.  It was a bequest.

Cheers

Anthony Miller


Okay it wasn't a bequest in the strictest legal sense but neither was it a no-strings-attached gift and the Council did not come into the possession of the items simply by the purchase of Heathfield.  Indeed one could argue Heathfield was not exactly "purchased" either?  Whatever.  It's clearly misleading to claim or insinuate the council "bought" the collection. 



I pointed out that similar claims were made on other pages of the website that might not be classed as press releases and indeed in the hard copy catalogue which surely cant be classed a "press release" ? but they just re-intoned:

Dear Mr Miller

Thank you for your email.

I’m afraid our position remains that the material concerned falls outside our remit on this occasion.  The document to which you object is a press release, appearing in the “Press Center” section of the website, under the heading “Press Releases” and this is editorial material which is not subject to the CAP Code.

I understand your objections but the issues raised concern matters that would be best assessed by a statutory organisation.  We do not consider that the sale listing is likely to breach the CAP Code for the reasons you state and do not consider that there are sufficient grounds for us to take further action under the Code.  I would advise that you seek legal advice or contact Trading Standards, who may be able to provide legal advice regarding this matter.  If you think that the material breaches the Museums Association Code of Ethics, it may also be advisable to contact this organisation with your concerns.

I appreciate this response will be disappointing, but I hope that you’re able to pursue your complaint with the organisations suggested above.

Kind regards

Jo

Jo Davis
Complaints Executive






So there you are.  If you're Inkey Jones and you make false claims on your website it is false advertising but if you are Christie's that's just a press release.  On the plus side as the items were actually sold in Hong Kong we were able to put in a similar complaint to their government too... which is ongoing:

If you too would like to complain to the Hong Kong government please email customsenquiry@customs.gov.hk quoting reference number A13424200

I did ask them recently if they had given up on this enquiry and they assured me that

Our reference :  A13923600

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your e-mail on 25.3.2014.  Your enquiry is forwarded to the officer in charge of your case for follow up action.

Which even if it means 走開,你傷心的人 is very polite.

Of course for those who cant afford court there is the much ridiculed Council Ombudsman but this process takes at least 3 months.  However, I have moaned to them ...not just about the sale but about the strange lack of curiosity that the council seems to have in whatever happened to its missing items.  Unfortunately the LGO is glacially slow at anything but if you write to the CEO of the Council and wait 12 weeks you can get a letter like this:

Dear Mr Miller

Complaint against London Borough of Croydon

I have now formed a provisional view about your complaint. I am sorry to tell you I consider this is not a matter the Ombudsman will investigate.

The enclosed statement sets out my provisional view and explains my reasons for it. If you wish to let me have any comments, I shall take them into account before making a final decision. That means that my view might change after I have considered what you say.

Because we usually publish our decision statements on our website, they do not contain names or details which could allow people to identify you or others involved. In the statement I have referred to you as Mr B. If you are concerned about the enclosed statement being published, please let me know.

Please let me have your comments by 15 April 2014. If I have not heard from you by then I shall make a decision based on the information I already have. If you need more time please let me know the reason.

Yours sincerely

Jane Beck
Investigator


Accompanied by another document that says:



To which I replied:


Ms Beck,

In reply to you provisional view…

“The injustice Mr B has suffered in this case is not significant enough to justify the cost of the Ombudsman’s involvement”

How does the Ombudsman quantify injustice? And is this an admission by the Ombudsman that an injustice has or may have taken place?  As I understand it the Local Governments Ombudsman’s remit is to consider complaints about Local Authorities (also known as Councils) and certain other Authorities where they may have been guilty of ‘maladministration leading to injustice’.  It seems to me that the loss of 89 pieces of precious oriental china and the theft of 39 others is at the very least maladministration and if people are unable to look upon items that are collectively owned because they have been lost or stolen this is an injustice?  Is it the view of the LGO that the victims of theft do not suffer injustice?  I am not asking for the Council to do anything unusual – just to come up with a definitive list as to what has been lost and stolen … this is surely just good administration?  Once such a definitive list is compiled steps may be taken to recover the items.  All the data on which items existed and when is available in the Local Studies Library it simply needs compiling from many different catalogues into a single coherent list.  I could do this myself but it would take many many man hours and I do not see why I should perform tasks which are surely the responsibility of the local authority – such as knowing what they actually own, what they’ve actually lost and what’s actually been stolen from them?  This is surely not a difficult matter to resolve?  I also thought that the role of the LGO was to arbitrate Wednesbury unreasonableness.  It seemed to me that the Council’s decision not to compile a list of what it thinks it may have lost is so unreasonable that no reasonable person acting reasonably could have made it.

“Mr B has also said that all council tax payers are affected but the Ombudsman cannot investigate something that affects all or most people in the Council’s area.”

One could argue that if the Council intends to keep the collection in its Museum then only a small number of people would be affected by the loss/misappropriation of these assets – those interested in viewing Oriental china.  However one could conversely argue that if the council wishes to pursue what seems to be a new policy of public disposal for financial gain then all council tax payers are affected.  The council’s recent rebate of £25 per person to all council tax payers cost somewhere in the region of £3,000,000 (multiply the number of council tax payers by the flat rebate).  The sale of 24 pieces of the collection in 2013 by Christies in Hong Kong raised over £6,000,000 and could be used to reduce Council Tax by £50.  However, the council has “ring fenced” the £3,000,000 for the renovation of the Fairfield Halls.  The Council seems to have a policy of ring fencing Arts spending and profits from the sale of fine art towards its budget for cultural activities and the performing arts.  Therefore by my estimation those suffering from the failure to recover the 89 missing and 39 stolen items from the Riesco collection are actually those who access the Council’s performing arts provision.  These are not, by definition, all or most people in the Council’s area –only those who enjoy music.

I would also like you/them to examine and have criticised the Council’s sale of the 24 items in 2013 on the grounds that they do not have adequate proof that they own the collection.  Mr Riesco’s agreement with the Council is complex and the Council seem not to either have a copy of Mr Riesco’s will or any written agreement from any representatives of the Riesco family about the sale of items.  Should the Council be allowed to dispose of £6,000,000 of assets purely on the basis of a verbal agreement unknown to Council officers?  I understand that the Council have taken legal advice over their ownership of these items but one is not inspired by their reluctance to put this advice in the public domain to believe that the ownership issues are black and white.

Cheers

Anthony Miller



To which they responded:




To which I responded:


Ms Beck

Thanks.

One of problems is that the Catalogues which would need to be cross referenced only exist within the Local Studies Library – so I cannot cross reference them myself.  Without actually being in the Library and neither can I get digital copies off the council because they claim an FOI exemption because the Catalogues are in the Local Studies Library.  If I could get digital copies off the Council it would be so much easier.  I am greatly impressed by the efficiency with which you have reached a final decision a good 5 days before you need to

Cheers

Anthony Miller

To which they replied:

Dear Mr Miller

Thank you for your email.
If you have not already done so you can ask the Council to review its decision on your FOIA request. After that the Office of the Information Commissioner (www.ico.org.uk) may be able to help.

Yours sincerely

Jane Beck
Investigator

The thing is someone has been here before. 
A previous enquiry for the Catalogues in digital form reads:





So there the truth as to exactly what we do and dont own and exactly what has and has not been stolen shall remain entombed in the bowels of the Croydon Clocktower on 2000->4000 pieces of paper unless some local Indiana Jones is prepared to sit in there all day every day cross referencing them all manually at their own time expense.  I would also question the Council's claim that the data is too difficult to scan ... and if it is ...might it not be an idea for someone to re-transcribe these lists?  Then again ...Who needs several million pounds anyway?  It's only clay and money.  Much like people and society.  Never-the-less we have asked the Information Commissioner if they can do anything to force the Council collate a comprehensive list of what it has actually owned and lost.  They said:

24th April 2014
 
Case Reference Number FS50538139
 
Dear Mr Miller

Thank you for your correspondence dated 14th April, regarding the London Borough of Croydon.

In your email you ask if 'it is possible for the Information Commissioner to either get the Council to digitise its catalogues or collate a proper inventory of items which it thinks it has lost'.

Regrettably this is not something which falls under the Information Commissioner's remit.

The Freedom of Information Act allows members of the public to request recorded information held by a public authority at the time a request is made. However the Act does not dictate what information a public authority must hold or in what format information is stored, nor is a public authority required to generate new information in response to a request.

Therefore, in light of the above, the Information Commissioner's Office is unable to order Croydon Council to digitally scan its catalogues or collate an inventory in order to fulfil your request.

I am sorry we are unable to be of assistance in relation to this matter. If you require further advice regarding the Freedom of Information Act and the role of the the Information Commissioner please visit our website www.ico.org.uk or contact our helpline on 0303 123 1113

Yours sincerely


Mike Chamberlain
Case Officer
Information Commissioner's Office

As Chris Ames would say if the government wants to avoid  complying with a freedom of information request the huge variety of available exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act available mean that it is "spoilt for choice".

The Council claims to still be actively looking for the 89 missing and 39 stolen items but how can it be when it doesn't even know which items these were?  The data from which to deduce which items these were/are clearly exists but the Council simply cannot be bothered to cross reference it?  It has never reported the matter of the thefts to the police as far as anyone knows including the police.  And it has hidden the data away in the Local Studies Library and refuses to make it public so that anyone else could investigate the matter on the spurious grounds that the various catalogues are of too poor a quality to digitise or scan but the articles I saw though of variable quality are on the whole perfectly scannable.  Certainly the council's facsimile of Riesco's original hand written notes was good enough to be used in the Christie's sale catalogue.  Of course these items although rare are non-specific so might be harder to recover than say a totally individual oil painting by an old master but none-the-less the Council displays a truly staggering lack of curiosity about what it its self and indeed its taxpayers actually own.  One might almost think there is a reason the Council ... then again maybe it is time to 莫惹是非



Updates

Following the election of Cllr Tony Newman's new Labour regime on the 22nd of May we finally recieved this piece of correspondence from the council on the 30th of May who had previously written on the 28th of April saying "Please accept my apologies for the delay in our reply.  Unfortunately we have been experiencing issues with some e-mails having being stuck in our e-mail server which has now been resolved." ...in which they purport that it impossible to allow the dissemination of the catalogues in other forms than their original for "copyright reasons"Well, it's  new one...

InformationTeam
Business Support
Bernard Weatherill House
7thFloor - Zone C
8 Mint Walk
Croydon CR0 1EA
Tel/typetalk: 020 8726 6000
Minicom: 020 8760 5797

Mr Anthony Miller


SENT BY EMAIL    Contact: Lynda Fay
information@croydon.gov.uk
Our Ref: F/CRT/10002478
Date: 30 May 2014


Dear Mr Miller  

Freedom of Information Request

Your request has been considered under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.  Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you request.  For ease of reference, I will address each of your questions in turn.

“I wish to put in an FOI to see All the Catalogues of the Riesco collection in some form of digital form in so far as is humanly possible to achieve.

With regards to the multiple conflicting copies of the Riesco catalogues in the Local Studies Library I notice you say in an answer to a Freedom Of Information request that you cannot provide the public with digital copies of the Catalogues "due to their age and condition" however having been and seen them I would comment that many are indeed of good enough quality to scan or photograph. Is it possible that the council could attempt this for all the catalogues or indeed a retranscription of them because to my reconing it cannot be right that the Council still has no clear idea of which items the 89 lost and 39 stolen items actually are? I have tried cross referencing the catalogues manually and this is too time consuming and also requires me to be physically present in the Local Studies Library while doing so. Is there nothing the Council can do to expedite the process. Surely some of the catalogues are of good enough quality to be scanned ...as is evident by the inclusion of sections of them in the Christies sale catalogs? It surely cannot be right that no one knows what is and is not missing? How does the Council expect to recover the items if it does not know what they are?”


The Catalogues of the Riesco are held in the local studies library in hard copy format. It is possible to access these Catalogues and view/and or use them for research in the same manner as any material held within the Local Studies Archives. I understand that you have done this in the recent past.  Under Section 11 of Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) “Means by which communication to be made” the Council is required to consider your request for digital copies of the catalogues.  In considering your request the Council may consider all the relevant issues including cost.

With the exception of the current records on the museums database all other catalogues and documentation relating to the collection are held in hard copy format, and have never been held in a digital format by the Council. These form part of a public archive that for the most part was acquired before the storing of records in a digital format was widespread practice. The items relating to the Riesco collection are:

•    3 volumes of the original Riesco catalogue, 504 pages
•    1964 catalogue, 46 pages
•    1984 catalogue of objects exhibited in Fairfield Halls,  66 pages
•    1987 handbook, 21 pages
•    1991 new catalogue, 258 pages
•    1992 records 31 pages
•    1993 reinterpretation of the collection 89 pages
•    2 Sothebys sales catalogues from 1970 and 1984.

Due to issues of copyright I regret that these cannot be copied either in paper format and/or digitally.  However, the Council is able to provide you with digital copies of the current catalogue records and these are attached

Lastly while FoIA provides a general right of access to information held by public authorities in the second paragraph of your request you have sought views/opinions which by their very nature are not recorded information.  FoIA is only applicable to information held by the public authority in recorded format and the Council is not expected to provide opinion or speculate in order to answer a FoIA request. Therefore the Council is unable to provide you with a response in respect of those issues.  If you are dissatisfied with the way the Council has handled your request under the Freedom of Information Act you may ask for an internal review.  This should be submitted to us within 40 working days of this response.  You can do this by outlining the details of your complaint by:

Email:    information@croydon.gov.uk

Writing:    Information Team
London Borough of Croydon
Bernard Weatherill House
7thFloor - Zone C
    8 Mint Walk
Croydon CR0 1EA

Any requests received after the 40 working day time limit will be considered only at the discretion of the council.

We also recieved a very nice email from our friends in Hong Kong...

Dear Mr Miller,

Notification on Result of Complaint (File Ref.: A13923600)

Having followed up and carefully assessed the relevant evidence pertaining to your complaint against “Christie’s” on suspected contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO) (Cap 362), our Complaint Assessment Panel has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the trader had violated the provisions of the TDO.  To instigate a prosecution, the prosecutor has to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt in any criminal proceedings.

In this regard, we have closed the complaint case.  In case you have any questions, please contact Ms Ng Wai-yin, Senior Trade Controls Officer at 23985180 during office hours.

( HM Wong )
for Commissioner of Customs and Excise





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A J Raffles illustrations by Frederick Coffay Yohn (1875-1933)
Sleeping dog by this bloke

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Everything on this page is stolen from somewhere
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