Steven Coughlan of Eleanor Street in London, has been charged in connection with the theft of Chinese decorative arts, mostly jade, worth up to £40m from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.The 25-year-old man, is the third suspect to be charged after 18 items were stolen from the museum on 13 April. The thieves entered the gallery by smashing a hole in the brickwork large enough to crawl through. This is a relatively uncommon method of entry and a worrying development in the billion pound trade in stolen works of art.
The latest suspect is accused of conspiracy to commit burglary and theft. A 28-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy have already been charged. Another 31-year-old has been arrested and bailed on suspicion of money laundering. They entered no pleas but are due to do so on July 13, with a trial date set for November 19. The 18 items taken were described as ‘valuable and culturally significant’ and with an estimated value of tens of millions of pounds. The bulk of the stolen material is jade artworks from the Museum’s permanent collection.
The theft is thought to have occurred on a Friday, and to have involved several thieves. A spokesperson from the University of Cambridge museum said that this ‘exceptional crime’ has seen the disappearance of ‘a highly important part of our collection and their loss is a great blow’. An investigation into the Museum’s security measures is already underway, with police patrols around the area having been increased. Forensic examinations have being carried out, and the investigation team worked scrutinising the relevant CCTV footage.Some of this has lead to the arrests.
A spokesperson for the detectives state that ‘this type of offence is extremely rare’: ‘The items stolen are very valuable and are of great cultural significance, so we are absolutely committed to recovering them and bringing those who stole them to justice’. None of the artefacts have been recovered and it is feared that they have already left the country.