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Pair deny smashing into Durham museum to steal valued Chinese exhibits
TWO men who admit being involved in a plot to steal Chinese artefacts from a museum deny carrying out the late night raid.
Lee Paul Wildman and Adrian Mark Stanton are among six people who have admitted charges arising from the theft of a Qing Dynasty jade bowl and an 18th Century Dehua porcelain figurine from the Oriental Museum, in Durham.
The exhibits, said to be worth £1.8m, were taken in a late night break-in at the Durham University-run facility, in Elvet Hill, on Thursday, April 5.
Both were recovered intact by police after being found in a field off Browney Lane, in nearby Brandon, eight days later.
Wildman, 36, and 33-year-old Stanton, both from Walsall, were arrested at a hotel in Birmingham following an appeal on BBC's Crimewatch programme.
Durham Crown Court was told both were found with £5,000 in their possession.
They admitted a charge of conspiracy to commit burglary, “with others”, at a hearing last July.
But their pleas, on the basis they were not responsible for smashing through the museum wall before removing the artefacts, were not accepted.
A trial of issue, or Newton hearing, began at the court today (Wednesday February 6).
Both told the court they were “recruited” by men they were too frightened to name at a car repair garage near Walsall.
They travelled to Durham not knowing what they were to be asked to do, as they needed to earn some money.
Following an agreed rendezvous with “people” in a silver Mercedes outside the museum, they were told to go in and steal Chinese artefacts, “the older the better”.
But after having a rucksack, in which they intended to remove the items, taken from them by museum security staff, they were unable to open the display cabinets and so left empty-handed.
Instead they agreed to supply stolen cars for the men for an agreed payment of £1,000 each.
One or both were seen on CCTV in the Durham area on the night of the raid and in days preceding it and afterwards, but claimed it was when they delivered the car and returned to collect payment.
Peter Makepeace, for the prosecution, accused them of telling “a pack of lies” and said the “visit” to the museum on March 29 was to “suss” the artefacts.
The trial continues tomorrow (Thursday February 7).