Tyne & Wear

Durham University artefacts raid 'highly organised'

Jade water trough on wooden stand, Qing Dynasty
Image caption The jade water bowl is from the Qing Dynasty

Raiders who stole two artefacts worth a total of £1.8m from Durham University carried out a "well-planned and highly organised job", police have said.

The night-time break-in at the university's Oriental Museum took place on Thursday 5 April.

Thieves got into the museum's Malcolm MacDonald Gallery, escaping with an 18th Century jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain figurine.

Five people of Walsall, West Midlands, were arrested and bailed until June.

The four men, aged 27, 56, 41 and 36, and a 34-year-old woman were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit burglary.

Museum officials described the objects as "highly significant" examples of the Qing Dynasty.

The two artefacts have not been recovered.

'Stolen to order'

Det Supt Adrian Green said he estimated the burglars had been in the premises for only a minute or two at the most once they forced entry.

He said: "It seems very clear that this was a well-planned, highly organised break-in.

"They have spent around 40 minutes creating a hole in an outside wall and when it has been big enough, they have entered the gallery and made straight for these two items."

Image caption The Dehua porcelain sculpture features seven fairies in a boat

"I am sure this job has been planned for quite some time and I would think the artefacts have been stolen to order, for someone who has already identified a potential market."

Supt Green said he was especially keen to hear from anyone who saw a light blue Audi A3 and an orange Renault Megane in the Durham area on 4 or 5 April.

Both stolen items are from the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty in China, which ruled from 1644 to 1911.

The large green jade bowl, dating from 1769, is from the collection of Sir Charles Hardinge, a British collector of jades and hardstones. A Chinese poem is written inside.

The Dehua porcelain sculpture, which has a cream white glaze and depicts seven fairies in a boat, is 30cm in both height and length.

A spokeswoman for Durham Police said the estimated combined value of the pieces was £1.8m.

The museum will be closed until further notice.

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