Burglars take £1m marble fireplaces

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A specialist team of burglars has escaped with four marble fireplaces worth £1m from an 18th-century house in central London.

The burglars evaded security and chipped out the individually carved fireplaces. The building, built in 1785, is owned by Asia House, which promotes Asian arts and culture.

It had been empty, except for the fireplaces, for two years while awaiting planning permission to restore the house to its former glory.

The raiders struck at New Cavendish Street between Monday and Wednesday.

Sir Peter Wakefield,the Asia House chairman, claimed it was the latest in several similar raids in the area. He said there was a steady demand for fine fireplaces and it was possible they were already in a container on its way to the Continent to be sold there.

"It's a very sad thing to have the original fittings of such a wonderful house raped in that way," he said.

"They had to be chipped out and they had been boarded up for security and alarmed but they got around it. It would have taken three or four chaps three or four hours to do it. We think they got in through a window at the front of the basement. It's a very bad blow for us as a charity."

Detective Constable Jon Lightfoot, of Scotland Yard, said: "The thieves must have been there for some time as the fireplaces were fixed in place and they must have had some sort of lorry or large van to transport the items."