Chinese artworks stolen from Fitzwilliam

Museums urged to increase their security
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Rebecca Atkinson
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Museums have been urged to step up their security following the theft of 18 Chinese artworks from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

A police investigation has been launched after four people broke into the museum at about 7.30pm on Friday 13 April. Enquiries have identified a white VW caddy van that is believed to have been used by the offenders.

The missing items are mostly jade and part of the Fitzwilliam’s permanent collection. Although the monetary value of the items has not been confirmed, some reports put this at about £18m.

In a statement, the Fitzwilliam Museum said: "These works are a highly important part of our collection and their loss is a great blow. We are working closely with the police to aid in their recovery."

A review of the museum's security measures is now underway.

Forensic examinations have been carried out at the scene and CCTV footage is being examined. Cambridge Constabulary said it had also stepped up patrols around the museum since the burglary.

Detective chief superintendent Karen Daber, who is leading the investigation, said: "The items stolen are very valuable and are of great cultural significance so we are absolutely committed to recovering them and bringing those who stole them to justice. While this is an exceptional crime, that we are taking very seriously, it is also worth remembering that this type of offence is extremely rare."

Earlier this month, Durham University’s Oriental Museum was targeted by thieves who stole an 18th-century jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain figurine estimated to be worth about £2m.

Five people were arrested and bailed in connection with the theft. The items were later recovered.

It is believed that the Durham raid had been planned for some time, with the artefacts stolen to order. The market for Chinese art is currently fuelled by collectors from China who are buying back imperial treasures.

This coincides with a number of rhino horn thefts from museums and auction houses. The horn is used in traditional medicines in China and elsewhere as a cure for cancer.

William Brown, the national security adviser at Arts Council England, said there is evidence that Chinese jade is being targeted by thieves in what could be the beginning of a trend.

His department is now working with organisations with similar collections to those stolen to ensure their physical security, alarm systems and displays meet the requirements of the government indemnity scheme.

The incidents in Durham and Cambridge follow a large number of rhino horn thefts from museums and auction houses. The horn is used in Chinese and other Asian traditional medicines as a cure for cancer.

Vernon Rapley, head of security and visitor services at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, said: “We’ve been aware for a while of a number of incidents that have centred around Chinese items. It’s a natural progression [from rhino horn] – people need to fund criminal activity and they are targeting other objects that appeal to the Chinese market.”

He said museums should increase their security and assess risk areas.

Update
25.04.2012

The Museum of East Asian Art in Bath is closed today following an attempted robbery yesterday.

Three men wearing high visibility jackets and baseball caps forced their way into the museum yesterday morning during opening hours.

Curator Michel Lee told Museums Journal that staff at the museum had been prepared, following break-ins at museums in Durham and Cambridge, and were able to get to a secure location and contact the police. No staff were hurt, and nothing was taken, he said, but the men escaped before police arrived.

Information

Anyone with information about either burglary can contact the police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.

Or email the investigation on
OpTundra@cambs.pnn.police.uk.

Museums concerned about security arrangements can email the national security adviser: nationalsecurityadviser@artscouncil.org.uk




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