Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nine Months for Two Thefts: London's Lax Laws

The trial of James Hodges didn't last long, and his sentence was something to be laughed at and about; it made a mockery of the judicial system of England and represented just how low on the scales of justice antiquities theft truly lies within those borders.

In 1991, Hodges stood trial at the Knightsbridge Crown Court, now known as Blackfriars Crown Court, accused of stealing from London Sotheby's two pieces of antiquity (a 1st century BC bronze helmet and a 6th century BC terracotta bowl), of forging a release note (which allegedly allowed him to have these objects at his home with the approval of the auction house) and eighteen separate charges of false accounting (where he set up two different bank accounts, using false names, and regularly paid himself little by little, but over time, it definitely added up).

Days before Christmas 1991, Hodges was found guilty of stealing both objects along with forging the release note. However, he was acquitted of all false accounting charges. Throughout his trial, Hodges defended his actions. His defense was that antiquities smuggling and clandestine financial dealings were rampant at the auction house; basically, he thought: everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I profit as well? The Knightsbridge Crown Court of London sentenced Hodges to nine months...but was out in five.

While in his late twenties, Hodges held numerous positions at Sotheby's. One of those included serving as an administrator in the Antiquities Department. Working in this capacity required Hodges to be in charge of antiquities paperwork ,with regard to buying and selling pieces, as well as all the financial transactions between the auction house and its customers.

After the bronze helmet and the terracotta bowl vanished from Sotheby's in 1989, Hodges was routinely questioned by law enforcement officials as to their whereabouts. Naturally, Hodges denied all knowledge and any involvement in the missing antiquities. His conscience must have gotten the best of him, however, because he later sent an anonymous note to the detective-in-charge. The note eventually led police to a luggage locker located at Marylebone station and the objects were, thankfully, recovered.

One possible reason as to why Hodges was only sentenced to nine months could be due to the fact that England is not a "culture rich nation." That being so, it could be entirely possible that the laws in England are not as stringent as the laws of nations in which cultural property and cultural heritage play a significant role in the lives of the people of Italy or Greece, for example. A short sentence, such as this, also conveys the message to the public that thefts of antiquities or cultural property will not produce a heavy sentence, at least in "culture poor nations."

I personally feel as though nine months for stealing two objects of antiquities was way too lenient of a sentence, regardless of the culture status of a nation. Uniformity in this area throughout the world would fare better for the protection and preservation of all cultural property and antiquities, known and not yet discovered, in all nations. And then, shortening Hodges original sentence by four months, it was basically a slap on the wrist. What would prevent him, or someone else, from stealing antiquities again? Especially if he knows the sentence could just as easily be reduced the second time around. Thankfully, after his arrest and prison sentence, Hodges turned his life around. Prior to his official release from Sotheby's, he had the bright idea of taking (or, stealing - which he apparently couldn't get enough of doing) internal documents that displayed the auction house in a bad light, as acting dishonestly and unethically. Hodges saw it fit that a publication of the wrongdoing of Sotheby's was the sweet revenge he needed after his five months of "hard time."

Randall, C. (1997, February 7). Reports of Cultural Property Incidents. From Museum Security Network:
Unknown. (2010). Blackfriars Crown Court. From London SE1 Community Website:
Watson, P. & Todeschini, C. (2007). The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums. New York: Public Affairs.

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