Dawn raids in London, Sussex, Cambridgeshire, the West Midlands, Essex, and Northern Ireland have netted the arrest of 19 individuals in connection with the theft of Chinese works of art and rhinoceros horn. The arrests were connected to six thefts, which occurred over four months in 2012:
The swoops were connected to six thefts over a four-month period last year, three at Durham Museum and the others at a Norwich museum, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge and at Gorringes Auction House in Lewes, East Sussex. Items stolen included Chinese antiquities worth more than £15m and a rhinoceros horn.
Five men aged between 20 and 54 and two women, 28 and 54, were arrested in London, four men aged 24 to 56 were held in Cambridgeshire, and two, aged 28 and 46, in Essex. A 60-year-old man was arrested in Sussex, a 32-year-old man was arrested in the West Midlands and a 67-year-old man was arrested in Nottingham. Three men have been arrested in Northern Ireland.
Cambridgeshire police, leading the operation, said all of those arrested were being held on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle except the 54-year-old woman, who was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender.
Eight people have already been convicted for their role in the thefts.The crime wave led to a great deal of speculation, much of it unfounded, that the Chinese art market may have been driving the thefts.
Seeing these initial accounts, I’m struck by a couple of things. One, it would have been rare only a few years ago to see such an organized coordinated raid in connection with an art theft. But no longer. The other examples that come to mind are the raids in the Four Corners region of the United States, and the raids on Southern California museums in recent years. But this is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.
Second, law enforcement often talks about the myth of the art thief. How their popular perception bears little connection to reality. Seeing the arrests of these guys on video and in pictures really doesn’t make being an art thief seem glamorous at all. The arrests are taking place in a traveler’s camp, coordinated with the media. Does not seem like a glamorous crime at all, being marched in handcuffs before you have a chance to get dressed in the morning.
The next step will be to see whether law enforcement can recover the stolen works. The criminal network uncovered here gives us hope for a successful recovery.
- “Nineteen Arrested over Museum Thefts in Series of Dawn Raid Across UK.” The Guardian, September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/sep/10/nineteen-arrested-museum-thefts.
- “Nineteen Held in Museum Theft Raids.” BBC, September 10, 2013, sec. England. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-24029133.