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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003