Plotters deny stealing £1.8m Chinese works in hole-in-wall raid

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Pair admit they were involved in plan but say they took no part in museum break-in

A criminal gang smashed a 3ft hole in the wall of a university museum and stole rare Chinese artefacts worth £1.8m in a well-planned operation, a court heard.

The raid on Durham University’s Oriental Museum last April was carried out by experienced burglars, Durham Crown Court was told.

The thieves smashed through the wall and grabbed items from cabinets. They escaped with an 18th- century jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain figurine dating from the Qing Dynasty.

Lee Wildman 35, and Adrian Stanton, 32, claim they were recruited by unnamed criminals who carried out the break-in. They have admitted conspiracy to burgle but deny they took part in the raid. 

But the plea from the Walsall-based pair has been rejected and their “trial of issue” seeks to determine exactly what role they played.

Wildman told Judge Christopher Prince that he and Stanton had been recruited in the West Midlands by figures in the North-east after a conversation at a garage in Walsall.

He said they had travelled to Durham without knowing what they would be asked to do and were motivated by the need to “earn some money”.

Giving evidence, Wildman said people in a silver Mercedes in a car park had told them to go into the museum building and “get any Chinese pieces for us you can”.

The prosecution said the pair’s first attempts to steal the museum pieces had been foiled when security staff made Wildman check in his rucksack.

Prosecutors said CCTV footage played to the court showed the men testing the locks on cabinets in preparation for the later raid. But both men deny returning to the museum and stealing the items.

Stanton claimed a gang of “smart, wealthy-looking” men inside the Mercedes had become angry when the pair failed to emerge with artefacts after the first aborted attempt. The pair refused to name any of the people they met at the garage in Walsall or in Durham.

But prosecutor Peter Makepeace told him he was telling a “pack of lies”. He said: “You are a man who has considerable experience of burgling.”

Wildman replied: “A long time ago, I have never been involved in stuff like this before.”

When Wildman and Stanton were arrested at a Midlands hotel on 1 May, they each had around £5,000 in cash, the court heard.

The case continues. The pair are due to be sentenced tomorrow, along with four others.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam