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Bungling Burglars Sentenced for Durham University’s Oriental Museum Theft

The thieves spent 40 minutes burrowing through
this 2 by 3 foot hole in the museum wall.

Two men cut their way into the Durham University Oriental Museum the night of April 4th, 2012.  Labelled by the British press as a “crack team,” they ran off with a Qing Dynasty porcelain sculpture and an 18th century carved jade bowl, together valued at over £2 million ($3 million).

The thieves spent 40 minutes creating a two by three foot hole in the museum’s brick wall, but only one minute inside the museum gathering the items.

The two objects were recovered eight days after the theft in a field outside Durham. They were undamaged and required only minor cleaning.

After a one year manhunt, which included features on BBC’s Crimewatch, Lee Wildman and Adrian Stanton were captured.  Both plead guilty for the burglary.  Wildman was sentenced to nine years and Stanton eight years.  In statements given to the police, both men claim that they were only a small part of the plan and were recruited to steal the objects.

According to Judge Christopher: “This is not an offense that can be described as sophisticated.  Although the burglary was carried out according to a specific plan, there were elements near the end of it reduced the plan to complete farce.”

Burglar Adrian Stanton,
sentenced to eight years. 
Burglar Lee Wildman,
sentenced to nine years.

Farce is an appropriate description, to say the least.

Wildman and Stanton’s plan had two major flaws.  First, they were seen at the museum one week before the theft shaking a display case, trying locks and carrying a crowbar.

And two, they lost their “loot” in a field.  Most likely out of panic, the stolen objects were buried.  Two weeks following the theft Wildman was seen searching the field frantically and yelling.  Judge Prince said during the sentencing of the two men: “Lawyers with many years experience have not seen a case where thieves have hidden property where they just could not find it afterwards, let alone property of this cultural importance and enormous value.”

The two men are most definately not the suave and sophisticated art thieves of movies and television.  As we discussed in our coverage of the recovery of a Matisse, art theft is not a glamorous crime.

Sources: “Gone in 60 Seconds: £2 m Chinese Takeaway of Museum Treasures,” Mirror, April 11, 2012; Neil McKay, “Durham University Oriental Museum Burglars Jailed,” The Journal, February 9, 2013; “Men Jailed After Chinese Museum Thefts,” ITV, February 8, 2013.