Enigma machine is posted to Paxman at BBC

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The Independent Online

A rare wartime coding machine stolen six months ago from a museum was recovered yesterday after being posted to Jeremy Paxman at the BBC.

A rare wartime coding machine stolen six months ago from a museum was recovered yesterday after being posted to Jeremy Paxman at the BBC.

The Second World War Enigma machine, which was used to decode Nazi messages, had been lying unnoticed in the offices of BBC's Newsnight for several days before it was opened.

The bizarre recovery of the device, worth an estimated £100,000, followed lengthy and very public negotiations in which the man in possession of the device demanded £25,000 compensation and immunity from prosecution. At one point he threatened to destroy the machine, which was stolen on 1 April from the Bletchley Park Museum near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

But the device, which was sent in a package that bore a Birmingham postmark, arrived recently at the BBC offices in White City in west London by special delivery.

Mr Paxman explained last night how the parcel containing the Enigma had in fact been in the Newsnight office for the past several days. He said he opened it yesterday afternoon only after a colleague pointed out that the package was addressed to him.

Mr Paxman said: "As soon as I opened it I realised what it was. I haven't a clue why they sent it to me."

He added: "As far as I know I haven't got a reputation as a receiver of stolen goods. There are lots of people they could have sent it to - like Robert Harris [the author of the book Enigma, who is a friend of Mr Paxman's].

"I'm delighted to be able to return it to its rightful owner. They are very, very poignant machines. I think what they did at Bletchley Park during the war was quite outstanding. It looks like it is authentic. It's got the G312 code on the back."

The typewriter-sized machine, which was posted in a wooden box with a leather handle and wrapped in three layers of packing and bubble-wrap, has yet to be authenticated by the museum.

The package, which cost £17.40 to post, contains the name and address of the sender, although police believe this will probably be fictitious.

Mark Ogle, a BBC spokesman, said: "We've been talking to Bletchley Park and it seems to be authentic. It has the G312 serial mark that the stolen one has.

"When Jeremy opened it his reaction was one of total surprise. He had no idea why he had been sent it. The first thing he noticed was the strong smell of oil and wood from the box, but as soon as he opened the box he realised it was an Enigma machine."

Christine Large, the director of Bletchley Park, the Second World War code-breaking centre, is due to to travel to the BBC Television Centre to authenticate the machine.

After the theft, a man claiming to be an intermediary for a new owner wrote to Bletchley Park saying he had bought the machine in good faith and wanted compensation of £25,000.

The author of the letters, which were posted from the West Midlands, was widely believed to be the thief of the machine, which is thought to be one of only three in existence.

Bletchley Park Museum said it had raised the £25,000 and was prepared to pay the "ransom", but no money is believed to have been exchanged.

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