Nineteen people have been arrested around the country in an operation involving 26 police forces in connection with a spate of thefts of artefacts worth millions from museums and auction houses.
The 17 men and two women were held in dawn raids involving hundreds of police around England and Northern Ireland. The operation, which follows a pan-European investigation, also involved officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
The arrests were connected to six thefts over a four-month period last year: three at Durham Museum and the others at a Norwich museum, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge and at Gorringes auction house in Lewes, East Sussex. Items stolen included Chinese antiquities worth more than £15m and a rhinoceros horn.
Five men aged between 20 and 54 and two women, 28 and 54, were arrested in London, four men aged 24 to 56 were held in Cambridgeshire, and two, aged 28 and 46, in Essex. A 60-year-old man was arrested in Sussex, a 32-year-old man was arrested in the West Midlands and a 67-year-old man was arrested in Nottingham. Three men have been arrested in Northern Ireland.
Cambridgeshire police, leading the operation, said all of those arrested were being held on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle, except the 54-year-old woman who was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and assisting an offender.
Chief Constable Mick Creedon, the lead officer for serious organised crime at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “The series of burglaries last year had a profound effect on museums and similar institutions and we are committed to bringing all those who were involved in the conspiracy to justice.