Museum raids: Cambridge Fitzwilliam unlikely to get jade back, says expert

Jade stolen from Fitzwilliam Museum Image copyright PA
Image caption A gang got away with 18 Chinese artefacts, none of which the museum is likely to see again, an expert says

A museum raided by an organised crime gang is unlikely to get back its stolen artefacts, according to an expert.

Thieves got away with 18 mainly Jade Chinese pieces worth about £15m in a raid at Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum in 2012. Several people were jailed but the items have never been located.

A further 14 men have been convicted for roles in that and other raids.

Roger Keverne, who helped value the £15m jade said if it had been taken to China, "that's possibly goodbye".

On 13 April 2012, thieves broke in through the rear of the museum, smashed display cabinets and made off with artefacts described as being of "incalculable cultural significance".

Image caption Officers raided a site in Cambridgeshire as part of a multi-force investigative operation on 10 September 2013

Five months later three men were jailed and a boy of 16 was given a detention order.

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The stolen items, believed to be worth up to £15m, could be worth tens of millions more on the "booming" Chinese auction market, police said.

Image copyright Durham Police
Image caption A gang of 14 has also been convicted - (top, l-r) Richard Sheridan, Michael Hegarty, Richard O'Brien Jnr, John O'Brien, Daniel O'Brien, Chi Chong Donald Wong, Alan Clarke; (bottom, l-r) Patrick Clarke, John O'Brien, Daniel Flynn, Ashley Dad, Paul Pammen, Robert Gilbert-Smith, Terence McNamara

Despite appeals by the museum and police, and a "substantial" reward, the jade appears to have been spirited away.

Mr Keverne, a London-based dealer who specialises in Chinese ceramics and works of art, was contacted by the Fitzwilliam Museum following the theft.

The Fitzwilliam raiders were "very fortunate... that they were able to breach the security," he said.

Security would "always be a problem" for museums as "the works of art and the treasures they hold have to be to a certain extent accessible to the public".

Image copyright Fitzwilliam Museum
Image caption Chinese artefacts worth up to £15m were stolen from Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum in April 2012

Asked whether the Fitzwilliam Museum was likely to get its stolen artefacts back, he said: "It looks like they may not.

"These things do have a habit of turning up eventually - well, they get put back to the market, things get recycled, they get passed on.

"They move up the chain until they're probably in the hands of someone who doesn't realise they have been stolen."

On Monday, 14 men were convicted over their roles in stealing artefacts from the Fitzwilliam and other museums and an auction house. On the open market the haul could be worth up to £57m, investigators said.

Image caption Glass display cases were smashed as the thieves stole artefacts from the Cambridge museum

One of them, Donald Chi Chong Wong, 56, of London, was described in court as a "fence" who made frequent trips to Hong Kong.

A number of these took place around the time of the Fitzwilliam heist and by the summer of 2012 Wong was under police surveillance, having met several times with other members of the gang.

It is not known whether he managed to transport any of the museum's artefacts overseas, but Mr Keverne said: "If they've gone to mainland China - that's possibly goodbye."

The Fitzwilliam Museum declined to comment when contacted by the BBC.

The 14 convicted men from Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent, London, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland will be sentenced on 4 and 5 April.

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