IN an act of rare academic generosity, a prominent expert on antique trafficking and art crime at Glasgow University is to make her research available online to spread information about the relatively unknown “grey market” in art and antiques.

Dr Donna Yates, originally from Georgia, USA, holds a PhD in archaeology from the University of Cambridge and has been studying the theft, trafficking, and security of sacred art, with her most recent focus on temple and shrine sites in South Asia, particularly Nepal and India.

“All the publicity is about the theft of sacred art by Daesh in Iraq and Syria,” she said. “But this is a worldwide problem and thefts of idols from temples in India are a real issue at the moment.”

The 33-year-old lecturer in Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at Glasgow University has been collecting and collating material on her subjects for more than two years.

Her website anonymousswiss revealed yesterday that Yates had decided to make her research available to fellow academics and members of the public.

She hopes that the reports she has found across the globe about art crime and trafficking in antiques will show the scale of the black market industry that has been created.

Readers can access Yates’ information through the website which receives no funding support and is “a labour of love” in her words.

A passionate believer in open academia, Yates said: “For several years I’ve been collecting reports about the looting of archaeological sites, the theft of art and antiquities, and all sorts of crime and legal entanglement related to cultural objects.

“The resulting database has become a valuable tool for my own research, and in the spirit of open data, I’ve been searching for a way to make the information I collect available. Scanning online media for relevant articles is a time-consuming task (it takes at least an hour every day) which results in approximately 70 newly-published articles added to the database per week. I don’t want any other researcher to have to repeat what I’ve already done.”

Yates hopes that greater awareness of the problem of art crime will help to promote much more research into the subject.

“It is a huge issue,” she said, “and it is going on everywhere.

“There is what I call a huge grey market in which people who do not have a proper provenance for an object are taking a real risk in buying it.”

Even experts buying items in good faith can be fooled by fake documentation, as the National Gallery of Australia found after 36 of its Asian art objects bought between 1968 and 2013 came under suspicion with only 12 having a satisfactory provenance.

In 2014, the then Australian prime minister Tony Abbott stepped in to return to India a famous bronze Dancing Shiva figurine dating from the 11th century – the figurine had been bought for A$5.6 million in 2008, but the Gallery could not produce a valid export licence.

Yates added: “The trade in idols from Indian temples is just one example of what’s going on. I think people who enter this grey market should be asking themselves ‘if there is no provenance, why are you buying it’?”