V&A fears museum is target of art thieves

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The Independent Online
THE Victoria and Albert Museum is worried that it is being targeted by an organised gang of art thieves after the return of a 17th century steel casket stolen last Sunday, writes Dalya Alberge.

The Italian casket, decorated with the Medici arms, was recovered yesterday after a London dealer contacted the police, having seen television coverage of its disappearance on Thames News.

The methods used were similar to a number of attempted thefts at the V&A, and to the theft of an altarpiece from its galleries last year but recovered with the help of an antiques dealer. The V&A has alerted other London museums to the possible existence of the gang.

As the Chelsea police took fingerprints from the 10in-high (25.4cm) casket, the museum was considering how to restore it.

A corner, chipped off during the theft, can be repaired but one of the casket's feet is missing.

The V&A was unable to say whether the dealer had bought the casket and said only that he was offered it for a sum well below its real value.

The museum said that for obvious reasons it was unable to comment on security, or the exact details of the theft.

It said that it could not afford alarms or insurance for all the objects in its collection.

It did, however, say that the casket - valued at pounds 200,000 - disappeared at 4.40pm last Sunday, from a case near the museum's Exhibition Road entrance.

A guard was posted in the room, but it is believed that the casket was whisked away while he was patrolling another part of the gallery. Within minutes it had gone. According to the museum, the guard heard nothing.