Museum hit by wrecking spree

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Thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused to exhibits when a man ran amok at the William Morris Gallery in east London yesterday .

Displays were overturned, damaging tiles, furniture, rare and precious books published by Morris's Kelmscott press, and artefacts from his early life.

Staff cleared the building and the police were called. A man aged 40 was arrested.

A spokesman for the museum said: "Thanks to the presence of mind of the staff, no one was hurt and the police acted superbly." He added that it was difficult to assess the damage because many exhibits were still trapped under display cases.

"It is going to cost many thousands of pounds to put things right. The gallery is closed for the time being but we hope to reopen on a restricted basis next week."

The gallery opened in 1950 to commemorate the life and works of Morris, a nineteenth century designer, poet, entrepreneur and socialist.

Based in Morris's childhood home in Lloyd's Park, Walthamstow, its rich display of exhibits have been a target for art thieves in the past.

In August 1994, a gang stole paintings and china worth pounds 250,000 after disabling a security camera by sticking tape across its lens during opening hours. The camera failed to register that it had been blinded, and the thieves broke in later through a first-floor window.

In April 1992, a gang took just four minutes to steal three Rodin statues worth pounds 100,000.

Staff at the gallery had been working on a programme of events to commemorate Morris's centenary next year, with special exhibits due to start in January.

Conservators from the Victoria and Albert Museum yesterday offered to help with the restoration work.

"We are determined not to let this spoil things too much," the spokesman said.