Fitzwilliam Museum Chinese art thieves detained

Steven Coughlan and Robert Smith Steven Coughlan and Robert Smith took part in the raid together with two others

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A gang including a 16-year-old boy have been sentenced after stealing Chinese art worth up to £15m from a museum in an act of "cultural vandalism".

Eighteen jade artefacts were stolen in the professionally-planned raid on Cambridge University's Fitzwilliam Museum at about 19:30 BST on 13 April.

Marvin Simos, 16, from east London, was one of four people sentenced.

Cambridge Crown Court heard the art, which has not been recovered, was of "incalculable cultural significance".

Simos, of Hanameel Street, Victoria Dock, London, admitted burglary. He was sentenced to a four-month detention and training order.

Start Quote

I draw the irresistible inference that they have gone or will go to one or more private collectors”

End Quote Mr Justice Fulford

Steven Coughlan, 25, of Gypsies Residential Site, in Eleanor Street, Bow, east London, Robert Smith, 24, of Rosedale Stables, Swanley, Kent, and a 29-year-old man from London, who cannot be named for legal reasons, will each serve six years after admitting conspiracy to burgle.

'Rare and beautiful'

Sentencing, Mr Justice Fulford described the crime as an "act of cultural vandalism".

He said: "This resulted in the loss to the museum and the public at large, not only in this country but across the world, of pieces of incalculable cultural significance and many millions of pounds in monetary value.

"The likelihood is they passed into private hands and will not be seen again for many generations, if at all."

The judge added: "They are rare and beautiful objects and I draw the irresistible inference that they have gone or will go to one or more private collectors."

A display case was smashed after a disc cutter was used to create a hole in a back wall.

The art has been valued at between £5m and £15m.

Defence counsel told the court "others higher up the chain", who have not been identified, recruited the gang to target the jade exhibits.

A jade vase and recumbent buffalo and horse Items from various Chinese dynasties were taken

The day before the raid, Smith, Coughlan and the 29-year-old were caught on CCTV "paying particular attention" to the Chinese gallery which housed the stolen artefacts, police said.

'Brutal' destruction

Glenn Harris, for Coughlan, said his client had lived a "pitiful existence" and had drink and drug problems.

Coughlan had been released from prison for another offence eight days before the burglary.

Beata Kopel said her client, Smith, was of limited intellect and had never attended secondary school. He was not physically involved in the burglary but took part in its planning.

Peter Caldwell, for Simos, said the boy did not enter the museum and had been "thoroughly exploited" and "selected for his naivety".

Alexander Taylor-Camara, mitigating for the 29-year-old, claimed the man had been pressurised into taking part and was not a "professional burglar".

Damage at Fitzwilliam Museum A display case was smashed after a disc cutter was used to create a hole in a back wall

David Scrase, acting director of the Fitzwilliam, said the raid had damaged the museum's precious reputation for "guarding treasures".

Staff had been shocked by the "brutal" destruction of the Chinese gallery, he said.

A spokesman for the museum added: "We very much look forward to the next stage of the investigation, entailing the return of all 18 stolen jades to the Fitzwilliam Museum."

Loss adjusters are to offer a reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen property, with an advert is to appear in the Antiques Trade Gazette.

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