Museum Security - Could the Singer Laren Burglary have been prevented?

Thursday, 23rd April 2020

An audacious burglary took place at the Singer Laren Museum where a high valued Van Gogh that was being loaned was stolen by an individual who escaped on a motorbike. Could and should this have been prevented?

On the night of the 30th March 2020 a single male forced entry into the Singer Laren Museum in Laren on the outskirts of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. A sledgehammer was used to breach the external and internal reinforced glass doors before the attacker escaped with the painting (valued in the $10’s of million); that has not yet been recovered. The Dutch police have released video footage of the attack Video link.

The question that is often raised (unfortunately in many cases it is post-incident) is whether this attack could have been prevented? The answer is nearly always yes, it should never have happened as it did in the first instance.

Let us examine the attack methodology. The attack was carried out by a single individual who must have had a degree of advanced knowledge either directly or by using third parties to identify door construction, locations, and portability of the painting. Therefore, a degree of planning has been demonstrated, possibly even considering ‘lockdown’ measures introduced by COVID-19 and availability/non-availability of police resources. It was unsophisticated in nature using blunt force (sledgehammer) to basically carry out a ‘smash and grab’ type attack lasting a few minutes in total.

There are several interventions which by default would have deterred, delayed, and even prevented the attack using this methodology in the first instance.

Firstly, the lenders themselves share a degree of responsibility for the attack as they should have reviewed the security measures that existed at the museum. If they had done so they would have identified that glass doors to the exterior are always vulnerable to attack and therefore pose a significant risk.

The museum itself should have been aware that the external and internal glass doors do not provide a suitable physical security barrier, certainly for a painting of such value. They should have identified that there was an increased likelihood that the painting was attractive to criminals and organised crime groups and therefore the risk profile increased. This should have also been identified by the insurers and steps taken to reduce the risks.

It is uncertain about the technical security measures that were employed at the museum but technical measures in themselves do not prevent an attack from taking place, certainly when the rewards are so high. Technical security applications generally notify, either remotely or using an alarm receiving centre that an attack is taking place. They do not generally prevent or provide any meaningful barrier to entry being gained, certainly from a determined attacker. Was there a response capability linked to the alarm system, what was it and how long did it take?

My final observation is that the painting does not appear to have been secured by anything that caused further delay or difficulty in its removal.

Had more robust barriers been used at the external and internal doors the attack methodology probably would not have succeeded, or if it did more time would have to have been spent breaching them. This in turn increases the likelihood of a timely response being mobilised or the attacker abandoning the attack.

By ensuring multiple layers of physical and technical security measures are applied the likelihood of deterring the attack, (too difficult, easier targets elsewhere) in the first instance are increased. Prevention is always better than the cure, which in this case would be the safe return of the painting, which isn’t guaranteed.

So yes, this crime could and should have been prevented in the first place by using and correctly implementing security risk management practises.

Trident Manor has been involved in the designing and securing of museums, galleries, and other cultural venues for several years. We have provided clients and national cultural organisations with specialist advice and guidance that reduce the current and anticipated risks, and working proactively to manage the threats our clients face.

Trident Manor has also developed a suite of specialist training programmes within our cultural protection services to help organisations and individuals play a proactive part in reducing the levels of risk that they or their organisations face.

For further information about how Trident Manor can help protect your cultural venue or to know more about the training programmes that we offer to the sector please feel free to Contact Us