Police raids recover 3,800 art works

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POLICE have recovered what is believed to be Britain's largest hoard of stolen works of art. Some 3,800 items - paintings, furniture, clocks, miniatures, sculptures and silver - have been found in a series of raids conducted over the last month by Gloucestershire police.

There are so many objects that the police have had to hire a large warehouse to store them.

'Operation Auction' was launched when a regional auction house rang the police over the doubtful provenance of a rare Queen Anne walnut chest. The police contacted the Art Loss Register, a private company that liaises with Interpol, the FBI, national police forces and the art and insurance community; within seconds, details of the piece were found on its computerised list of 40,000 stolen works of art.

A police spokesman said that 'a number of people have been arrested in connection with this matter'.

Staff at the Art Loss Register have transferred their computers and database, which includes images, to the Cirencester police station, where they have found a further 200 registered items. Unclaimed pieces, which are still being valued, will be displayed to the public. Part of the hoard will be screened on the BBC 1 Crime Watch programme on 17 September.

Most of the items are valued at under pounds 5,000. As Caroline Wakeford, operations manager of the register, explained, 'they're the kind of stuff that passes through the art market unnoticed because people don't register them'.