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Police raids after museum thefts
Police forces across the country are carrying out searches following a series of robberies at museums and auction houses.
Warrants have been executed in London, Sussex, the West Midlands, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Northern Ireland by hundreds of officers from 26 police forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
The operation follows six crimes which took place over a four-month period last year at museums and auction houses across England.
Chinese artefacts and a rhinoceros horn were stolen in six incidents - three at Durham Museum, one at Gorringes Auction House in East Sussex and one each at Norwich Castle Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
West Midlands Police were the first to confirm an arrest. The force raided addresses in Bentley, Walsall and Low Hill, Wolverhampton, which had been identified by Soca. A man in his 30s was arrested in Walsall on suspicion of conspiracy to commit burglary. Four men were detained by Cambridgeshire Police after raids at Smithy Fen travellers' site in Cottenham.
Chief Constable Mick Creedon, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead for serious organised crime, said: "Today's operation follows a long and complex pan-European investigation involving officers from 26 police forces and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
"The series of burglaries last year had a profound effect on museums and similar institutions and we are committed to bringing all those who were involved in the conspiracy to justice. Many of the stolen Chinese artefacts are still outstanding and a substantial reward remains on offer for information which leads to the safe return of those priceless items."
So far, eight people have been convicted and jailed for their roles in the break-ins. Speaking after a 15-year-old old boy and three men were convicted of conspiracy to burgle following the raid on the University of Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridgeshire police acknowledged they were unlikely to have caught everybody involved.
Eighteen ancient Chinese jade artefacts - which some experts said could be worth £18 million - were stolen after the gang evaded museum security.
Cambridge Crown Court heard it was unlikely the men knew the true value of the items which it is thought were sold to rich Chinese collectors. Defence counsel told the court "others higher up the chain", who were not been identified, recruited the men to target the jade exhibits.