Attempted raid at Museum of East Asian Art in Bath
A Bath museum was sealed off by police yesterday after a botched attempted break-in.
Police teams have been working at the Museum of East Asian Art in Bennett Street, which houses almost 2,000 art objects.
It follows a wave of high-value burglaries of Chinese art from museums.
Detectives say nothing was taken and nobody was hurt in yesterday’s incident.
Staff at the museum called police after the three men – dressed in white overalls and high-vis tabards – knocked on the door at 11.40am.
The trio – who had arrived in a silver Audi A6 – pushed past the member of staff to get into the building.
Within 30 seconds, they had run out of the museum again after an alarm had sounded.
The museum in a Georgian house contains ceramics, jades, bronzes and other treasures from China, Japan, Korea and South East Asia.
Last week £18 million of jade was stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and earlier in April jade was stolen from the Oriental Museum in Durham.
Up to four people were involved in the theft of Chinese works of art worth at least £18m from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, police believe.
Detectives said the burglars had entered the back of the building at about 19:30 BST on 13 April.
Officers said the group was inside the building for a "matter of minutes" before fleeing in a getaway car.
The 18 items stolen were mostly jade and part of the museum's permanent collection.
A Cambridgeshire police spokeswoman said officers were checking CCTV from local car parks and park-and-ride facilities as part of their inquiries.
Cambridgeshire police have refused to speculate on whether the theft is linked to a break-in earlier this month at the Oriental Museum at Durham University, where Chinese jade and porcelain items were also stolen.
Bath's museums on alert as raiders eye treasures
Bath’s museums packed with historic treasures are on high alert this week after a bizarre attempted break-in.
The incident at the Museum of East Asian Art in the city centre came hard on the heels of the theft of Chinese works of art worth millions of pounds from institutions in Cambridge and Durham.
The small museum in Bennett Street, which houses almost 2,000 art objects, was sealed off by police on Tuesday. Detectives say nothing was taken and no one was hurt in the incident, which involved three offenders.
Staff at the museum called police after the three men, dressed in white overalls and high-vis jackets, knocked on the door at 11.40am.
The trio, who had arrived in a silver Audi A6, pushed past the member of staff to get into the building.
Within 30 seconds, they had run out of the museum again after an alarm had sounded.
The museum in a Georgian house contains ceramics, jades, bronzes and other treasures from China, Japan, Korea and South East Asia and is the only gallery in Britain purely devoted to its subject.
It was opened in 1993 and its collection dates back to the year 5000BC.
In separate incidents earlier this month, Chinese jade and porcelain items were stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Oriental Museum in Durham.
Museum of East Asian Art curator Michel (cor) Lee said it had stepped up its security as a result of the other incidents and a spate of rhino horn thefts from institutions in Europe.
“As a result of recent thefts of rhinoceros horns across Europe and the thefts at the Oriental Museum in Durham and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, we had been preparing for worst case scenarios.
“We have been taking extra precautions and maintaining vigilance, as well as receiving extra training in our emergency procedures. Needless to say, we will continue our extra security measures.”
Bath has one of the highest concentrations of museums – 17 in one square-mile area alone – anywhere outside London.
Alexander Sturgis, director of the Holburne Museum, which has recently emerged from a £11-million expansion scheme, said they were aware of the potential threat and were taking extra security measures.
He said: “We talked to the Museum of East Asian Art after their horrid scare and send our sympathy to them.
“We are also aware of the recent thefts of Chinese material around the country and although we don’t display this kind of material, as always, our staff and volunteers are briefed to be vigilant.
“The care of our collection and its security are of paramount importance to us at the Holburne, and improving both were important elements of our development project.”
A spokesman for Bath and North East Somerset Council, which runs the Victoria Art Gallery and the Roman Baths, said staff at all its sites had been warned to be vigilant.
The Arts Council has been working with museums exhibiting Chinese art to ensure security standards are high.
A spokeswoman said it provided guidance to any museums which had concerns and invited anyone with questions to contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vernon Rapley, head of security and visitor services at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, told Museums Journal: “We’ve been aware for a while of a number of incidents that have centred around Chinese items. People need to fund criminal activity and they are targeting other objects that appeal to the Chinese market.”
Police have confirmed they are looking into the possibility that the Bath incident is linked to the spate of thefts elsewhere in the country.
Police alerted worldwide after Fitz raid
Police forces worldwide have been alerted in the hunt for Chinese artefacts stolen in a multi-million pound raid on the Fitzwilliam Museum.
And today detectives ruled out any links with a similar burglary of jade treasure in Durham.
It took minutes for a gang of art thieves to plunder the museum in Trumpington Street of 18 works of art valued at about £10 million on Friday, April 13.
Det Chief Sup Karen Daber, who is overseeing the investigation called Operation Tundra, said: “The number one priority for the investigation is recovery of the property so very early on the 18 images of the property were circulated nationally and internationally to alert to what they look like.
“We are looking into any type of market out there for this type of stolen property.”
The detective also ruled out any link with a similar heist which took place just over a week earlier at Durham University.
A gang chiselled into the Oriental Museum through an outside wall on April 5 before stealing two Chinese artefacts, which are thought to have been stolen to order.
Both stolen items are estimated to be worth more than £2 million and were recovered on the same day that the raid on the Fitzwilliam took place.
Mrs Daber said: “At this moment in time we do not believe the burglary at the Fitzwilliam is linked to the burglary at Durham. From our inquiries we have found no link.”
CCTV images of a stolen white VW caddy van which is believed to have been used by art thieves the Fitzwilliam have been released
The van has a dent in the driver’s side panel and tinted windows to the rear. It is believed to have been stolen in the Tower Hamlets area of London on April 7.
It was seen near the museum and spotted at Trumpington park and ride and heading towards the M11.
Stolen Fitz haul 'still in UK', claims expert
The former head of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad claims the Fitzwilliam treasures stolen last week should still be in the country and the thieves who took them will have great difficulty selling them on.
Dick Ellis, 63, oversaw some of the Yard’s biggest cases during his decades working for the force, and now runs a consultancy firm specialising in bespoke services to the art and antiquity world.
Police should be looking for home-grown criminals who are still in the country trying to shift the rare items, said the expert, and officers should be looking at the recent theft in Durham, similar to the Cambridge heist.
He believes it is unlikely the 18 Chinese items were stolen under the orders of some international collector: “The idea there is some rich collector out there ordering these is probably not correct. The likelihood is this is a reasonably local gang of criminals following the market who saw that Chinese antiques were fetching high prices.
“The problem they face is that to get rid of them they need access to the Chinese black market to get the best prices. That’s a very difficult market to access so they will probably be looking more locally.
“However, the raid has attracted a lot of publicity so UK dealers will know they are stolen and even unscrupulous ones will not want to handle it. They will have great difficulty attracting a buyer so they will have to look to international markets. Whatever they do it will take time, so I think the items are still in the country.”
The raid happened on April 13 at around 7.40pm at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Trumpington Street and police are appealing for witnesses. They have released images of the 18 artefacts, valued at around £10 million.
Officers are also trying to trace a white van believed to have been used in the raid.
Mr Ellis, director of the Art Management Group, said: “I think the thieves’ expectations will have far exceeded their ability to shift the property. And when they do sell it on they will be looking at getting just 3-10 per cent of their face value.”