Twenty suspects held after museum theft raids are bailed

Police raiding homes at Smithy Fen in Cambridgeshire
Image caption Officers from 26 forces took part in Tuesday's raids

Police investigating thefts of "priceless items" from museums and auction houses in England have bailed all 20 people they arrested.

Officers from 26 forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) carried out dawn raids on Tuesday.

Seven people were bailed on Wednesday and 13 were released earlier.

The 20 men and women from Essex, Cambridgeshire, London, Nottingham, Sussex, Walsall and Northern Ireland have all been bailed until January.

The 40 co-ordinated police raids were made in connection with six burglaries involving the theft of Chinese artefacts and a rhinoceros horn, over a four-month period in 2012.

Heritage crime

Three of them took place at Durham University's Oriental Museum, one at Gorringes Auction House in East Sussex and one each at Norwich Castle Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in April last year.

Several high-value items are still missing, police said, including 18 mainly jade Chinese artefacts taken from the Cambridge museum, and thought to be worth up to £15m.

So far, eight people have been convicted and jailed for a total of more than 40 years for their roles in the six break-ins.

Image caption Items from various Chinese dynasties taken from the Fitzwilliam Museum are among those still missing

The 20 people arrested on Tuesday were detained on suspicion of conspiracy to commit burglary, apart from a 54-year-old woman who was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender.

Eight people aged between 20 and 54 were detained in London.

Four men aged between 24 and 56 were arrested at a travellers' site in Cambridge.

In Northern Ireland, three men aged between 43 and 59 were held.

Two men aged 28 and 54 were arrested in Basildon.

A 32-year-old man from Walsall, a 60-year-old man from Sussex and a 67-year-old man from Nottingham were also detained by police.

During the raids officers seized cars, cash, suspected stolen property and documents.

They have not yet been able to say whether any items missing after the museum thefts last year were found.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has set up a working group to crack down on the increase in heritage crime, and to share intelligence and crime prevention advice.

The group includes police officers, English Heritage and other partners in the arts and museum sector.

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