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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Art warehouse fire probe begins
The fire in Leyton
The fire destroyed art valued at millions of pounds
An investigation has begun into the east London warehouse blaze that destroyed modern artworks valued by one art insurance specialist at 50m.

Fire experts and police are trying to establish the cause of the fire that wrecked the storage unit in Leyton.

More than 100 pieces owned by art mogul Charles Saatchi, including works by Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, were among those to perish.

Warehouse owner Momart said it was "deeply saddened" by the loss.

It said the fire appeared to have started in a separate building in the warehouse complex, some distance from the art storage unit.

Investigators are now beginning the painstaking task of searching for clues to the cause of the fire.

Firefighters on scene of fire in Leyton, east London
The fire in Leyton, east London, started on Monday
They are expected to spend up to three days at the scene, carrying out a forensic-style examination of the debris.

"It's a huge site, the size of a football pitch, and many officers will be taking part," a London Fire Brigade spokesman told BBC News Online.

Momart managing director Eugene Boyle said the company was keeping its clients informed of developments.

"Our insurers are completely satisfied that we took all the necessary steps to ensure the safekeeping of the works of art in our possession," he said.

The company was constantly reviewing security and safety arrangements, he added.

"We take security and safety very seriously and have enjoyed a blemish-free record since we were founded in 1971," he said.

"We have been overwhelmed by the support offered by our clients and others in the industry."

The company's clients include the National Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Buckingham Palace.

Hell by the Chapman brothers
Hell, by Jake and Dinos Chapman, was lost
It could not provide a complete list of the artworks destroyed because of "client confidentiality", but among those confirmed were pieces by Emin, Hirst, brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman, Chris Ofili, Gavin Turk and Sarah Lucas.

Works by Turner Prize-winner Rachel Whiteread, Patrick Caulfield, Gary Hume, Craigie Horsfield and 20 pieces by Martin Maloney were also destroyed.

Hirst lost 16 paintings - several of his own butterfly and spin paintings and a number of others by artists such as Hume and Lucas.

A spokeswoman for Hirst said: "Of course the works are insured but they can't be replaced. Damien is upset about it but the important thing is that at least no lives were lost."

Emin's embroidered tent, Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963-1995, was also lost. Saatchi is thought to have paid 40,000 for the controversial artwork with 102 names in it.

Emin's Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995. Photo: Stephen White
Tracey Emin's infamous tent was lost in the fire
"I am very saddened by the news and feel it is a tragedy for British culture that so much art was destroyed in the fire," Emin said.

"For me, the works had great personal and emotional value and are irreplaceable. At this point, I am just thankful no-one was hurt."

Three years ago, Saatchi paid 500,000 for the Chapman brothers' Hell sculpture, which is also confirmed lost.

The brothers cast and hand-painted more than 5,000 figures including skeletons, Nazi soldiers and human mutations.

Jake Chapman told the London Evening Standard: "I hold God personally responsible and, on a scale of one to 10 of how annoyed I am, I'd say about 11."

Firefighters on scene of fire in Leyton, east London
An exclusion zone was placed around the industrial estate
Momart's insurance company, Heath Lambert, said the fire was an instance of "exactly why the insurance market exists".

"So far we have received a very positive response from the various insurers involved," said a spokesman.

"It is too early to say what impact, if any, this loss will have on insurance rates and capacity in the specialist art market."

One City art insurance specialist contacted by BBC News Online said the cost could be between 40m and 50m.

The BBC's Razia Iqbal
"Yet again Brit art makes an impact"

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