Inside Out uncovers 110 museum thefts

Museum security forms part of the investigation by Inside Out

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Over the past year, several museums in East Anglia have fallen victim to high-profile thefts.

In Cambridge, Chinese art worth millions of pounds was stolen from the Fitzwilliam museum. A rhino horn was snatched in Ipswich, a rare medieval jug was taken in Luton and Lord Nelson artefacts were stolen from the Castle Museum in Norwich.

But a BBC investigation has found a far greater number of thefts were carried out over the past six years and received little or no publicity.

Museums across the region, wary of further comprising the security of their precious artefacts, have had at least 110 items stolen, totalling more than £300,000, since 2007.

Freedom of Information requests by Inside Out have uncovered, among other thefts:

  • An ancient Egyptian pottery tray worth £5,000 taken from Saffron Walden Museum in Essex in 2007
  • Four chests each containing 500 antique dolls, stolen from Collector's World near Downham Market, Norfolk, in January last year
  • An antique painting worth £3,500 from Woburn Park, Bedfordshire, in February 2009

The figures do not include the Chinese art, but revealed that the rhino horn stolen from Ipswich Museum in July 2011, was worth £300,000 - £50,000 more than previously reported.

ITEMS STOLEN SINCE 2007

  • Cambridgeshire 19
  • Essex 26
  • Norfolk 21
  • Suffolk 5
  • Hertfordshire 16
  • Bedfordshire 21
  • Northamptonshire 3

Karen Perkins of the Stockwood Discovery Centre, where a rare 14th Century jug was stolen in May, said: "The impact of the theft on the museum has been devastating.

"Not only to our regular visitors, but also to staff who take a great deal of pride in this site and what they've achieved in the last four years.

"Reviewing the security is very important and we're moving ahead with that right now, but what we don't want to do is lock stuff away.

"A lot of stuff on public display belongs to the people of Luton.

"If we just locked things away we're not really doing our job as a museum."

A Museum Security Group has been set up by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and has more than 350 members.

It is led by Vernon Rapley, former head of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit.

He told Inside Out: "I think that recent events have highlighted the importance of museum security is expensive to put in and so it has to be prioritised.

"A number of measures they can put in now that are cost effective and make best use of intelligence and resources they have."

BBC Inside Out will be broadcast in the East at 19:30 BST on Monday, 22 October

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