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Thieves steal pounds 2m treasures; Trio held after disappearance of rare Chinese artefacts.

Byline: ANDREW GLOVER

TWO men and a woman were being quizzed by detectives last night in connection with the theft of treasures worth almost pounds 2m.

But the two Chinese artefacts stolen in a break-in at Durham's Oriental Museum are still missing.

It is feared they could already have been smuggled out of Britain after having been stolen to order for a foreign collector.

Two men and a woman were arrested in the West Midlands and taken to Durham Police Station for questioning in connection with the raid on the Oriental Museum, at Elvet Hill, Durham, part of the city's university, on Thursday night. Durham Police said there was a break-in at a ground floor gallery in the building at about 10.40pm.

The stolen items are Qing Dynasty Chinese pieces which were in the museum's Malcolm MacDonald Gallery. The gallery is named after the son of ex-Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald, a former diplomat who donated his extensive collection of Chinese ceramics to Durham.

The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China.

Chinese national Boya Wong, 29, who is studying for a PhD at Durham University, said: "Chinaware was made for the high ranking officers and the emperors so the chinaware in the museum is likely to be very elite.

"If the royal family ordered one vase, they would make thousands then choose the best and destroy the rest, so these pieces could be unique."

Museum officials described the stolen items as "highly significant" examples of the Qing Dynasty. The Oriental Museum is home to one of the UK's most important Chinese collections.

Det Ch Insp Traci McNally said: "We are still trying to locate several outstanding suspects in relation to this investigation.

"We believe those individuals would be aware of the police investigation and would urge them to contact Durham Police on 101 without delay."

The burglary has forced the museum to close over Easter.

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MISSING One of the artefacts stolen from the Oriental Museum, Durham, housing one of the UK's most important Chinese collections
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 9, 2012
Words:365
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