Tougher rules could be imposed on all museums after Northampton’s Sekhemka sale

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Sanctions could be imposed on museums that consider ‘unethical’ disposal of artefacts after Northampton Borough Council’s £15.8m sale of the Sekhemka statue.

The Museums Association’s (MA) board is considering introducing tough penalties on authorities that break its code of ethics at its next board meeting on September 18 in light of the borough’s decision to sell the ancient Egyptian artefact to help pay for an extension of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

The key disciplinary action available to the MA board at present is to expel and bar museums that breach its code of ethics.

So far three local authorities – Croydon, Bury and Derbyshire – have been barred from membership in the past 25 years.

But ethics committee director at the MA, David Fleming, said: “The board will be reviewing what kind of sanctions are available to it.

“I’d like to see if there is something else that could be said or done and I’ll be seeking people’s views on what might be appropriate.

“The MA does need to take a firmer line. What we’re talking about is a deterrent to prevent wholesale sell-offs of collections.”

The ethics committee is also due to rule on whether the council should face disciplinary action at the meeting.

Northampton Borough Council’s museums at Abington Park and on Guildhall Road have already been stripped of Arts Council England accreditation.

The ethics committee warned Northampton in advance of the auction last month that the MA did not endorse the disposal. The committee said the council had not demonstrated the sale was a ‘last resort’ after other funding sources had been explored.

The MA says it has also learned the council received a number of offers that would have enabled the Sekhemka sculpture to go back on public display after it was placed in storage in 2010 over security fears.

In 2012, National Museums Liverpool entered negotiations to borrow and display the statue in Liverpool.

The Friends of Northampton Museums also offered to buy an £8,000 secure display case that would have enabled the artefact to go back on display at Northampton Museum.

The council did not proceed with either offer.

Mr Fleming said: “We’re not quite sure of Northampton’s full justification for the sale.

“If the fact that the object was in store is a justifying factor, that’s where this issue comes into play. It was eminently possible for that item to be on display to the public.”