Why did we actually ban exporting Jane Austen's ring?

Who decides what is of "outstanding national importance"?

Kelly Clarkson, we assume, was dismayed when the Culture minister placed a temporary export ban on her recently purchased ring belonging to Jane Austen. The final decision is expected in September.  

The purpose of export controls is to ensure that cultural goods which are considered to be of "outstanding national importance" remain in the UK. The export licensing rules, administered by the Arts Council of England, apply to anyone who wants to take a "cultural object" (items such as works of art, furniture, antiques, archaeological artefacts and manuscripts) out of the country temporarily or permanently, regardless of its destination.

And surprising to some private collectors, there are no exemptions for those who make a temporary loan of a particular item or collection to exhibitions being held by overseas museums or galleries.

Whether or not a licence is required will largely depend on the age and value of the cultural object in question and whether it is to be exported within or outside the EU. Generally, a licence will be required if the object is more than 50 years old at the time of export and valued above specified financial thresholds (£180,000 for an oil painting exported within the EU and £130,451 for a painting exported outside the EU). 

Objects which are potentially of national importance, such as Jane Austen’s ring, will be referred to an expert committee for review. The committee will assess the object in question against the Waverley Criteria (is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune? Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance? Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?).  

If an object is considered to meet the Waverley Criteria, it will be designated as a national treasure and a decision on the export licence application will be deferred to enable an offer to purchase to be made (at a fair market price) to keep an object in the UK. But is this sense or sensibility?

Export licensing requirements are perhaps an unwelcome administrative burden for the owner who only wishes their treasured collection of art and antiques to grace a home overseas. To ensure that any last minute heartache is avoided, it’s best to be informed (think carefully about the age, origins and the value of your objects) and plan the process accordingly.

And of course, for those with homes around the world who do want to their art and antiques to cross borders, there’s also VAT and Customs Duties to consider when bringing objects into the UK or other EU countries (and similar taxes elsewhere) but let’s leave those anecdotes for another day.

Emily O'Donnell works at private wealth City law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine.

Jane Austen's signature. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.