Gurkha Officer in Shanghai

Posted on Thurs, 27 March 2014 by Alyson Thomas
Posted in: Medal News
Gurkha Officer in Shanghai An age-old problem

THIS month’s “Letters to the Editor” page contains a number of opinions regarding Robert Chalke’s experience with the Surrey Regimental Museum (see MEDAL NEWS March 2014)—in general the consensus of opinion amongst those writing, and of those to whom we have spoken, seems to be that whilst Mr Chalke was absolutely right to hand back the medals, the Museum perhaps could have reacted differently. Although, of course, they were not obliged to. Contrast this experience with the “feel-good” story in “News & Views” this month and the experience of Ms Vanessa Angelo-Thomson whose family medals have been recovered thanks to a MEDAL NEWS reader, Lockdales Auctioneers and a very charitable vendor. The problem of stolen medals is one that, sadly, affects many of us in the hobby—either we are the victims of crime ourselves or unwittingly purchase stolen medals and often only finding out about their dodgy provenance years later. As it stands the law is fairly straightforward—if you are in possession of stolen property you don’t really have a leg to stand on. If the original owner can prove theft, usually with a crime reference number or insurance claim, then you have to relinquish the medals. It is then up to you to try to get your money back from the person from whom you bought them; they must do the same and so on until the trail inevitably dries up. It is worth noting by the way that the insurance for purchases offered by some credit cards does not seem to cover you in these cases so beware! If no proof of theft is forthcoming then things get a little murkier. It is possible, and indeed we have seen cases, where one member of the family sells medals without the knowledge of another and that second member cries “theft” either because of a family feud or simply because they weren’t aware of the situation. When this happens the person holding the medals is under no obligation to part with them, however, we often see instances where they are happy to sell (or in this case even give) them back to the family because, after all, we all know what it would be like if we had cherished family medals that went “missing” and ended up with another collector.

The biggest problem with stolen medals is how do you know they are “hot”? In this most recent case the theft happened years ago. The collector purchased them in good faith and has had them in his collection for well over a decade—he may not even remember who he bought them from and even if he can the chances of any recourse are minimal after such a long time and with no concrete proof. It is testament to his integrity that he has done what he has done. (I say he although I must stress Lockdales have not divulged the identity of the collector so it could be a she!). Now, of course, in this case a national database of stolen medals would seem to have been ideal and that is what many collectors are calling for so that they can check up before purchasing anything. However, it might not be the solution that everyone thinks. In this particular case the theft of the medals was only brought to our attention by the owner’s daughter years after the event. So that would not have stopped the buyer some 15 years ago. The only sure way to make sure the theft was reported at the time was to get the police to do it, but as it was part of a larger robbery with numerous things going missing I cannot see the police wanting to take the time to single out just the medals. That, however, isn’t the main problem: the biggest issue of a central database is keeping it up to date. It is all very well telling us, or indeed anyone else, when medals are stolen. With the theft uppermost in the victim, or the police’s, minds then reporting such a thing may well be a priority. But what if they are then recovered? Can we guarantee that that is reported to us too? Probably not; and so the medals are forever labelled as stolen. You can see it now—a DSO group with Malaya GSM gets “nicked”, the family are distraught and report the theft. A year or two later the group turns up in a local auction, they persuade the auctioneer to withdraw it and they are reunited with the medals. Do they inform us? Or even the police? It is unlikely they’ll even think about it—so in ten years’ time when the grand-daughter of the recipient is on her uppers and needs to sell, she finds herself unable to do so at a decent price as the medals are still listed as stolen! This need to ensure such a database is up to date, and the fact it relies on people not that familiar with our world, means that, at this stage, it is not practical—one day it may be, but until then we will just have to rely on the honesty, and generosity of those like the Lockdales, Vendor and Mr Chalke to get medals back to where they belong.

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