Home to a world-class collection of antiques and art, the towering ceilings of the Fitzwilliam Museum have always inspired a church-like reverence and respect. However, the notion of an idyllic afternoon’s perusal of its ancient wonders was shattered by a heist in April. The four men responsible have now admitted their guilt.
In total, eighteen items of ancient Chinese art were stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s permanent collection on the evening of 13 April. The Museum, as well as subsequent reports, have been vague over the exact value of the stolen items. Figures circulating are in the region of £18 million.
The missing items included pieces from the Qing, Qianlong and Ming dynasties – a jade 16th century carved buffalo, a carved horse from the 17th century and a green and brown jade carved elephant. Other items included a cup and vase carved with bronze designs, along with an opaque jade brush washer.
Last week, three men and a boy admitted their parts in the burglary at Cambridge Crown Court. On 30 July, 15 year-old Marvin Simos from Victoria Dock in East London pleaded guilty to theft. Meanwhile, Patrick Kiely, 29, and Steven Coughlan, 26, both from Tower Hamlets, East London, and Robert Smith, 24, from Swanley in Kent, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle.
All four will be sentenced on 28 September at Cambridge Crown Court. The guilty pleas follow a huge police operation, including an appeal for information on the BBC’s Crimewatch, which led to over ten calls with information on the crime.
The museum has refused to comment on its own security measures. It has faced criticisms after it was revealed that University security failed to respond quickly enough to a silent trip wire, which was not set up to inform the police. The simple nature of the burglary has prompted further questions as to the lack of sophistication in the Museum’s security protocols.
The items have not yet been recovered and the search is still ongoing. Art experts speculate that the items were ‘stolen to order’ for the Chinese private market.
Frances Docx, News Reporter