Arrest in Preston Museum Missing Treasure Investigation


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In what appears to be a breakthrough in the investigation into the suspected theft of artefacts from Preston Museum, Police have arrested and bailed a man following raids on premises in Ludlow and Hereford.  Some material, which the Police suspect to have been stolen, has been recovered.

Metal detectorists, and archaeologists, including two men who found a hoard of 28 Roman silver coins and a silver ingot earlier this year in Rutland, had been left angry and frustrated by the loss which was revealed to the public earlier this month after thePipeLine obtained sight of an e-mail, describing the investigation into the apparent theft which had been sent to the finders of the missing material by the Lancashire Council Museum Service.

A particular cause for hurt was the fact that finders had followed the law and handed over finds defined as Treasure under the Treasure Act 1996, placing the artefacts into the care of the Portable Antiquities Scheme for the north west, based with the Lancashire Museums Service in Preston. 

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is the national scheme for reporting archaeological finds which is run from the British Museum.  Local Finds Liaison Officers are often based in regional museums.

The objects handed over in Preston were meant to have been kept in secure storage inside a council-run Museum Service building before being sent to the British Museum for expert analysis and valuation by the Treasure Valuation Committee.

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However, as thePipeLine revealed earlier in December, the disappearance of the material only came to light in the Autumn of 2021, when the Treasure Registry at the British Museum asked for one of the finds to be dispatched from Preston to London.

Shocked museum staff in Preston discovered the object requested was missing and, while they thought it had already been transferred, there was no record of it ever arriving at the British Museum.

An initial check by the Lancashire Museum Service and the British Museum established that as many as 12 sets of registered artefacts and their casework files, were missing.

Following the apparent theft of non-archaeological material in July 2022 further, more detailed, checks were undertaken by specialist staff at the Council, led by the Council’s senior fraud investigator. This investigation found other artefacts were apparently missing and Lancashire Police were called in, beginning a formal inquiry in October [2022].

In the e-mail sent to the finders of the missing items a senior member of the Lancashire Council Museum Service apologised and attributed the disappearances of the artefacts to the actions of “…an individual or individuals unknown”.

On December 16, as part of the investigation, officers from Lancashire Police, supported by West Mercia Police, raided premises in Herefordshire and carried out a number of searches.

It is reported on Social Media that the Police were supported during the searches by specialist staff from the British Museum.  This would not be unusual if officers expected to find historical material requiring identification by experts.

If at least some of the stolen material has been recovered officials at Lancashire County Council will breath a sigh of relief as the Council had promised that, in line with the process under the Treasure Act, ‘finders’ and the landowners on whose land the artefacts had been recovered, will be compensated. A bill which would be met, at least initially, by Lancashire’s council tax payers.

A spokesperson for Lancashire Police told thePipeLine,

Detectives investigating the suspected theft of items from a Lancashire museum have arrested a man.

Earlier this year we received a report of the theft of artefacts from the Lancashire Council Museum Service.

Following further enquiries, Lancashire Police, supported by colleagues from West Mercia Police, executed a warrant in Ludlow on Friday (December 16). Further searches took place in Ludlow and Hereford.

A quantity of suspected stolen property was recovered at the address with one man arrested by officers.”

The Police spokesperson added,

If anyone has any information about the alleged thefts or believes that they can help with our enquiries, please call 101 or email, quoting investigation number 04/116599/22.

If you have any enquiries regarding the status of a particular find, such as whether it has been affected by this incident, then please contact the Lancashire Council Museum Service.

A 31-year-old man from Ludlow was arrested on suspicion of theft. He has been released on bail pending further enquiries.”

Asked to confirm if its staff had been involved in the raids in support of the Police a spokesperson for the the British Museum said,

“As the incident is part of an on-going police investigation it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

The British Museum also declined to comment when asked if the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the British Museum Treasure Valuation Committee nationally have made any changes to the procedures under which finds held under the Treasure Act are registered, stored, monitored and transferred to London.

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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

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