“Priceless” objects stolen from Museum of East Asian Art - Museums Association

“Priceless” objects stolen from Museum of East Asian Art

Police appeal for witnesses and information
Jonathan Knott
Police have appealed for information after a gang of thieves stole almost 50 items, including jade and gold artefacts, from the Museum of East Asian Art (MEAA) in Bath last week.

The incident took place at about 1.20 am on 17 April. Avon and Somerset Constabulary said that witnesses saw four masked men breaking into the museum and making off in a dark-coloured SUV.

Police said that a first-floor window was smashed to gain access, and that the thieves broke into several display cabinets to steal “culturally significant” objects.

“Officers attended within five minutes of the call and a thorough investigation is underway, involving crime scene examination, door-to-door enquiries and a trawl of local CCTV,” said a police statement.

A spokeswoman for the museum said that 48 objects had been identified as stolen. The stolen objects are listed on the museum’s website and include a jade monkey holding a peach, a pair of jade mandarin ducks holding lotus flowers, a set of 14 gold belt plaques and a stoneware vase.

Detective sergeant Matthew Reed said: “Due to the items stolen and the speed of the burglary we suspect this to be a targeted attack with the artefacts possibly stolen to order. These items range in monetary value, but their cultural significance is priceless.”

“I’d like to thank members of the public who have assisted us so far and ask anyone else who can help our enquiries to get in touch.”

Police have seized a stolen white Ford Transit van left at the scene. Officers are keen to hear from anyone who saw this vehicle being towed or moved overnight on 16 to 17 April.

Nicole Chiang, the museum's curator, said: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the burglary as we are preparing for our 25th anniversary celebrations. Not only do the stolen objects have significant historical and cultural value, they also hold irreplaceable emotional value for our founder.”

MEAA, an independent museum, opened in 1993 and holds nearly 2,000 sets of objects from East and South East Asia. It was founded through the donation of the art collection of Brian McElney, a former lawyer and Hong Kong resident.

The museum has closed following the incident and plans to reopen on 5 May.

Vernon Rapley, the director of cultural heritage protection and security at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and chair of the National Museum Security Group (NMSG), said there was hope that the incident did not signal a return to the type of situation experienced several years ago, when there was a spate of thefts of East Asian artefacts from museums.

“We were all deeply saddened to hear about of the theft from MEEA in Bath,” said Rapley. “I know that museums across the UK will do all that they can to assist in recovering the property and hopefully bring the offenders to justice.

“It is concerning to witness a crime targeting jade and gold in a museum, after a period of relative quiet within the UK. The NMSG monitors crime patterns across the UK and Europe, and has been keeping a cautious eye on events targeting gold and other precious goods. We very much hope that this crime isn’t the start of a pattern of offending, similar to that witnessed between 2012 and 2014.

“Yesterday’s police recovery of the 16th-century gold reliquary stolen just last week from a museum in Nantes is encouraging. We hope for a similar recovery of the objects from Bath.”

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