The items were taken during a break-in last Friday (13 April) and come from the museum’s permanent collections. Among the stolen objects there are six artefacts from the Ming dynasty, eight from the Qing dynasty, and a table screen from the Qianlong era, as well as an 18th century cup and vase.
Cambridgeshire Police said they have collected forensic evidence from the museum and that CCTV footage is being examined.
‘We have a team of detectives working hard to achieve these ends and we are working closely with the Fitzwilliam Museum, which is doing all it can to help our enquiries,’ said Detective Chief Superintendent Karen Daber, who is leading the investigation. ‘We are following up a number of enquiries but we also need the help of the public and would urge anyone with information that could help to call us.’
She added: ‘In particular, we are keen to hear from anyone who may have been in or around the Fitzwilliam Museum between 6pm and 8pm and may have heard or seen anything unusual or suspicious. While this is an exceptional crime that we are taking very seriously, it is also worth remembering that this type of offence is extremely rare.’
This is the second English university museum to have had its Chinese collections targeted in the last two weeks. On 5 April thieves broke through the wall of the Oriental Museum in Durham, stealing an 18th century jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain figurine, both from the Qing dynasty. These were recovered from a field outside Durham six days ago, apparently undamaged. Four men and a woman have since been arrested in connection with this theft, and have been released on police bail until early June pending further enquiries.
Cambridgeshire Police have confirmed that they are co-operating with officers in Durham to see if there is any connection between the two burglaries.
A spokesperson for the Fitzwilliam Museum said: ‘These works are a highly important part of our collection and their loss is a great blow. We are working closely with the police to aid in their recovery. A thorough review of our security measures is also underway. We urge anyone with information that could help the enquiry to come forward.’
They added that their upcoming exhibition, The search for immortality: tomb treasures from Han China, would be opening as planned on 5 May – watch out for our coverage of this in the next issue of CWA (#53).
CCTV footage suggests that as many as four people broke into the rear of the Fitzwilliam Museum at 7.30pm on 13 April. They were in the building for only a few minutes but the 25 staff and officers of Operation Tundra are keen to speak to anyone who passed the museum between 6.30 and 8pm that night.
Enquiries have also identified a white VW caddy van which may have been used by the burglars to make their escape. With a dent in the driver’s side panel and tinted windows to the rear, it is believed to have been stolen in the Tower Hamlets area of London on 7 April.
Anyone with information can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or Cambridgeshire Police at firstname.lastname@example.org
Images of the stolen artefacts
(copyright Fitzwilliam Museum)