Jail for Chinese artefact thieves

News Shopper: Two thieves chiselled a hole through a brick wall to get in and out of Durham University's Oriental Museum Two thieves chiselled a hole through a brick wall to get in and out of Durham University's Oriental Museum

Two inept thieves who stole Chinese artefacts worth £2 million from a museum but then could not find where they had stashed them have been handed lengthy jail sentences and told the real value of their haul was "immeasurable".

Lee Wildman, 36, was jailed for nine years and Adrian Stanton, 33, was handed an eight-year term for planning and carrying out a raid at Durham University's Oriental Museum last Easter.

They had planned the break-in well, choosing the night before Good Friday when the campus was quiet, using cloned number plates and chiselling a hole through a brick wall to get in and out quickly.

From the display cabinets, they picked out just two items - a 1769 jade bowl and a porcelain figurine - worth up to £2 million, Judge Christopher Prince told them.

But their plan was flawed because after hiding the items on wasteland, Wildman could not find them when he returned two days later. He was seen by a witness searching the plot, speaking in an agitated manner on his mobile, as the light faded.

Just weeks before the pair from Walsall had received suspended sentences for a night-time break-in at an amusement arcade in Rhyl, where they cut a hole in a roof and broke into slot machines.

On that occasion police stopped their car on the way back to the Midlands, and found them to have over £10,000 in coins. That was in their minds when they decided to hide the Chinese artefacts and collect them later, the judge said.

Both men had shown no remorse and had told "transparent" lies during a two-day hearing at Durham Crown Court in which they tried to play down their roles in the burglary, the judge said.

It was hard to put a price on the items, the judge said. "The financial value of artefacts such as these is perhaps the very least important factor," he said. "These items have got a historical, cultural and artistic value that is quite simply immeasurable."

The items were found following a finger-tip search of the waste area after a witness who read some of the widespread publicity about the case recognised she had seen Wildman in the area. Four others who helped the offenders while they tried to lie low from police will be sentenced on Friday.

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