Specialist detectives who investigate art and antique fraud have been reassigned to the Grenfell Tower investigation, prompting fears that their unit could be closed permanently.
Three officers from the Met’s specialist police squad were temporarily parachuted in to assist the huge operation following the inferno in west London, Scotland Yard has said.
But Vernon Rapley, who headed the team for almost a decade, said he had was not told officers would return to their roles and fears the unit could be shut down.
Mr Rapley told The Art Newspaper: "I am very concerned that the Metropolitan Police is unable to give assurances on when the three detectives who have been temporarily reassigned will be returned to the unit."
He said the capital needed a "dedicated art squad", adding: "Losing it now, when cultural heritage is under threat in so much of the world, would represent a very serious loss."
Specialising in tackling the theft and fraud of cultural items, the unit is responsible for the London Stolen Art Database - cataloguing the details of 54,000 stolen works.
Units from across the force have been drafted in to help the Grenfell Tower probe after at least 80 people died when fire swept through the building in June.
Police are expected to continue the process of recovering evidence from the block's blackened skeleton until the end of the year.