The old adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity does not appear to be true for museums and galleries.

Press articles about famous Old Masters made avid reading for art thieves last year, the Art Loss Register believes.

"For some reason, many more museums than usual were plundered by art thieves last year compared to private owners," said Alexandra Smith of the ALR.

"We think the stories such as the recovery of paintings stolen from Jewish families during the War, gave thieves food for thought."

Intense media coverage ensued at New Year when it was discovered that thieves had stolen Auvers-sur-Oise, a £3 million painting by Paul Cezanne, from Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum while the rest of the country was out celebrating.

The museum, the oldest in the country, has a grade A security rating, and the painting was uninsured.

This week, two oil sketches by John Constable worth about £1m each which were stolen from the Victoria & Albert Museum were recovered by police.

The trade in stolen art and antiques is believed to be worth about £5 billion a year, third only to guns and drugs.

The UK has one of the biggest problems. Work valued at £400m is stolen every year.

"The Miller's Antique Guide is the most read book in prison according to prison warders and police," said Smith.

The ALR placed about 10,500 items on its database last year, marginally fewer than the year before.

It has about 100,000 stolen items on the database and claims to have recovered an average of one in three over the past decade.