Prime suspect in Durham Oriental Museum £2m art theft is released in error

Prime suspect in Durham Oriental Museum £2m art theft is released in error

WANTED: Lee Wildman and Adrian Stanton, both 35

The scene of the robbery at Durham University Oriental Museum

STOLEN: Fairies in a Boat

HEADING INQUIRY: Detective Superintendent Adrian Green at the Oriental Museum, in Durham City

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Derwentside & Tyneside)

POLICE and the Crown Prosecution Service were at loggerheads last night over who ordered the release of one of the chief suspects in a £2m antiques theft.

The suspect, who was being questioned in connection with a robbery at the Oriental Museum, in Durham City, has since vanished and a nationwide manhunt is under way.

Lee Wildman, also known as Jason Green, was arrested after an organised crime gang tunnelled through the wall of the museum and stole two rare artefacts from the Qing dynasty, an 18th Century jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain figurine. The 35-year-old suspect, one of five arrested over the Easter weekend, was given bail on Monday.

The Northern Echo understands police in the West Midlands tried to re-arrest him on Tuesday night for further questioning, but he escaped and has not been seen since.

Last night police and prosecutors disagreed over who made the decision to release him. Detective Superintendent Adrian Green, who is heading the investigation, said: “He has been arrested, he has been interviewed he has been bailed and now we wish to interview him again.

“He is wanted and we will be making inquiries to trace him and re-arrest him.

“The evidence was felt by some not to be strong enough to justify his charge.

“The police do not decide on charging anymore.”

However, the Crown Prosecution Service rejected any insinuation that its lawyers made the decision to release Mr Wildman, insisting it had given police the go-ahead to charge him.

said: “This was a fast moving matter with finely balanced decisions taken within strict legal custody time limits.

“The first reviewing lawyer concluded that the police had not yet provided enough evidence for the CPS to decide whether or not this suspect should be charged, and recommended that further evidence be sought while the suspect was on police bail.”

“A more senior lawyer looked at the matter after the police appealed the decision and agreed with the first lawyer.”

However, when the second CPS lawyer spoke to police about his decision, more evidence came to light which, it is believed, prompted a change.

The CPS said: “Within ten minutes of considering this new information, the senior lawyer was able to conclude that there was sufficient evidence to charge the suspect under the threshold test and that, on balance, there was, therefore, enough evidence to charge while the police gathered more evidence for a full charge. The lawyer communicated this to the police immediately and with 13 minutes remaining on the custody clock time limit.”

Regardless of whoever let the suspect go, the police are now in the embarrassing position of trying to find him again.

Det Supt Green said the other man he wants to speak to is 32-year-old Adrian Stanton, who is also from the West Midlands.

Forty officers are working on the investigation to trace the gang who created a 3ft hole in the wall of the Malcolm Mac- Donald Gallery of the Durham Univ e r s i t y - owned museum at 10.40pm on Thursday.

They used hammers and chisels, taking 40 minutes to break through the wall, before crawling into the gallery.

Once inside, they found the exhibits, smashed the glass cabinets and were out in less than a minute.

Det Supt Green said: “I would expect they would be looking to get them out of the country as soon as possible.

They may well be heading for auction in other countries.

Unfortunately, they may have been stolen for a criminal and may never appear on the market.”

Police also want to trace two black men and a man with olive skin, aged between 16 and 24, who spoke with London accents and visited the museum on Thursday.

Police believe the men were staying in an empty property or rented accommodation, such as a hotel or guest house, and want to hear from landlords who may have found dumped clothes or tools, or know where their cars may have been stored.

They are working with West Midlands Police to trace Mr Wildman, who is from Walsall and Mr Stanton, whose last known address was a flat in West Bromwich Street, also Walsall.

Three men, aged 56, 41 and 27, as well as a woman aged 34, all from the West Midlands area have been arrested, questioned and released on police bail in connection with the burglary.

Anyone with information is asked to call the police nonemergency number on 101.

Comments (6)

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10:07am Thu 12 Apr 12

Rasselas says...

Rather suprising to find these hard nosed thief catchers and stalwart prosecutors have made a mistake. Bring back Clouseau
Rather suprising to find these hard nosed thief catchers and stalwart prosecutors have made a mistake. Bring back Clouseau Rasselas
  • Score: 0

1:50pm Thu 12 Apr 12

A.Smith 71 says...

Anyone with information is asked to call the police nonemergency number on 101!
Bit of a joke really as I would of thought the recapture was top priority and not something that will be looked into when the have a wooden top available sometime over the coming week.
Anyone with information is asked to call the police nonemergency number on 101! Bit of a joke really as I would of thought the recapture was top priority and not something that will be looked into when the have a wooden top available sometime over the coming week. A.Smith 71
  • Score: 0

4:52pm Thu 12 Apr 12

GeordieB says...

The article doesn't say the amount of time between the Police being told they didn't have enough and then being told they did.

Imagine the kick-off if they hung on to a prisoner for several hours after being told there wasn't enough.

****-up rather than conspiracy I think.

The real story here is that the Police have no control over the charging decisions. Go back to the old way and the problem disappears.
The article doesn't say the amount of time between the Police being told they didn't have enough and then being told they did. Imagine the kick-off if they hung on to a prisoner for several hours after being told there wasn't enough. ****-up rather than conspiracy I think. The real story here is that the Police have no control over the charging decisions. Go back to the old way and the problem disappears. GeordieB
  • Score: 0

5:29pm Thu 12 Apr 12

Daza says...

Blame the last Labour Govt!

It was their decision to impose Statutory Charging Decisions!

I.E. A prosecutor gets to look at the evidence first before deciding if it can be won at Court.

2 bites of the Cherry anyone!
Blame the last Labour Govt! It was their decision to impose Statutory Charging Decisions! I.E. A prosecutor gets to look at the evidence first before deciding if it can be won at Court. 2 bites of the Cherry anyone! Daza
  • Score: 0

6:40pm Thu 12 Apr 12

stevegg says...

Geordie B is right. From my understanding the police only have 24hours custody time to reach a charging decision or release. In exceptional circumstances this can be extended to 36 hours at a superintendants discretion. Once again a demonstration of how the offenders rights are put above all else.
Geordie B is right. From my understanding the police only have 24hours custody time to reach a charging decision or release. In exceptional circumstances this can be extended to 36 hours at a superintendants discretion. Once again a demonstration of how the offenders rights are put above all else. stevegg
  • Score: 0

7:32pm Fri 13 Apr 12

John Justice says...

Ever since the inception of the Crown Prosecution Service there has been an uneasy alliance between them and the Police. Many Police officers view the CPS as an imposed barrier they have to cross to get a suspect to court. However it is a system that must be used and inevitably there will be mistakes made by both sides. It seems in this case a CPS solicitor decided that the Police had insufficient evidence to proceed to the next step and that bail was the next required procedure. This was supported by another CPS official. The delays and subsequent Police decision to bail would be solely based upon the CPS advice. It may be that the Police were to hasty in bailing the suspect but ultimately decisions are made on the evidence available and an individuals interpretation of the strength of it. Mistakes happen, someone has a red face, it will be interesting to find out who it is.
Ever since the inception of the Crown Prosecution Service there has been an uneasy alliance between them and the Police. Many Police officers view the CPS as an imposed barrier they have to cross to get a suspect to court. However it is a system that must be used and inevitably there will be mistakes made by both sides. It seems in this case a CPS solicitor decided that the Police had insufficient evidence to proceed to the next step and that bail was the next required procedure. This was supported by another CPS official. The delays and subsequent Police decision to bail would be solely based upon the CPS advice. It may be that the Police were to hasty in bailing the suspect but ultimately decisions are made on the evidence available and an individuals interpretation of the strength of it. Mistakes happen, someone has a red face, it will be interesting to find out who it is. John Justice
  • Score: 0

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