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Friday, November 18, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Lord Ashcroft, Who Would Belize It, Unbelize-able

7 News Belize

http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=21041
November 17, 2011
In the Styrofoam and plastic era, fine silverware is a faded memory - almost a museum piece.

In fact, that's just what it was at the House of Culture - where the Governor's finest silver was part of the permanent collection at what used to be the Government House.

Well, now a few prize pieces have been stolen. But no one knows how or when the silver was stolen, or who done it. We went to the former cradle of colonial power - and found that they practice the kind of security that would make old Queen Victoria proud:..

Jules Vasquez Reporting
This is the cabinet from which the precious silverware was taken. A blank space is all that's left. The list of stolen items includes: A cigar box, A 10 inch teapot with a floral design, A teapot that is inscribed with the words VR Government House on it, A tureen - which is used to keep food warm, also inscribed VR Government House, Another more oval tureen and a pair of napkin holders - also inscribed.

Six items - none of them tiny - that just walked off the shelf at the House of Culture.

Sherilyne L. Jones, Director Museum of Belize/House of Culture
"We discovered it last week Wednesday; we notice that the display case was empty. some of the shelves had missing items and that's when we called the police to report that the items were missing."

Jules Vasquez
"Was there any forced entry?"

Sherilyne L. Jones
"None that we could discover that the police have indicated to us. No, no force entry."

Jules Vasquez
"But this is a facility that is open to walk-in visitors?"

Sherilyne L. Jones
"Yes."

Jules Vasquez
"And it is an unsecured area?"

Sherilyne L. Jones
"For the most part. We don't have armed guards at every turn."

In fact the only security presence is outside at the police booth - there are no guards inside and visitors can lead themselves through a tour.

The building is open and the cabinet is unlocked.

Sherilyne L. Jones
"We have never had any of the display cases under lock and key, not from the history of the House been open. We felt pretty much secure with our staff and the people that come in on a daily basis."

It is difficult to put a value on the stolen items: they date back to the 1800's- and are priceless:

Sherilyne L. Jones
"To be quite honest because the pieces are of our national heritage and part of the collection of national antiquities - it hard to put a dollar amount. With any artifacts that are sold on the black market is what the buyer is willing to pay for the item. For me to say this piece is $500.00 or $1,000.00 I cant."

Marion Ali - Love News
"It dates back how far in history?"

Sherilyne L. Jones
"They all date from the 1800s. They are silverware that was commissioned for the Government House and so they have some intricate markings on them. A couple are marked VR for when Queen Victoria reigned. There is a couple that's marked ER for obviously Queen Elizabeth reign and then there is two napkin holders that's from King George. It was part of the Government House, when the governors occupied the house - these were there household everyday items. The fact that the House isn't used for that purpose anymore we had them on display so people could understand the history and understand the importance they played in our past. Like I said these items are irreplaceable. It's not like I can go out to Brodies and buy a silver pot because its engraved Government House, particularly it was commissioned for the House."

Commissioned for the House and now stolen from it - when? Sometime in the past 9 weeks!

Sherilyne L. Jones
"Inventory was conducted at the end of August when the curator was here to clean and polish all the silverware, so a complete inventory was done sometime between then and last week, that's when we realized that a few of the pieces were missing."

But they didn't all go missing at once; a picture shows that they were gradually removed:

Sherilyne L. Jones
"We have a picture from September 25, where we can clearly see that only one piece was missing at that point."

Marion Ali - Love News
"When was it discovered missing?"

Sherilyne L. Jones
"We just discovered that when we were doing our investigation. We take pictures randomly but because the allege individual was very cunning. They moved and shifted the objects around so upon first glance you wouldn't notice that instead of five items there is only four, because it was shifted."

Jules Vasquez
"So then would that not indicate that it is an employee or somebody with access to the place."

Sherilyne L. Jones
"I wouldn't want to speculate on that, like I said police investigation continues."

And now the house of culture will have to cease having security practices like when the Governor still ruled:

Sherilyne L. Jones
"This incident has highlighted the fact that we are in a different time and we are looking at our security overall and we are going to address those within the next couple weeks. There are more objects that are more valuable in the House that is still here. Why they chose those particular pieces I am not sure. Internally we have interview individual staff members and again the police is continuing with their investigation but we thought we would mention it and bring the media out or into the fold at this point so that the public is aware that these items are out there either locally or internationally that if somebody comes across it or have information they could contact us could help to the successful recovery of these items."

There is a reward being offered, but Victorian modesty, we presume, forbids NICH staff from saying how much the reward is. True, as strange as it sounds, no matter how we pressed, they could not tell us what the reward is! We do hope it is a princely sum for the King's finest wares.

You can call collect to 223-4524 if you have information.

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