Two valuable pieces of Ealing Council’s Martinware collection stolen in 2005 and 2007 have been returned to the Council following a complex recovery operation. The important items, a distinctive “Wally Bird” and a rare jug worth a combined five-figure sum, were part of an insurance claim settled shortly after the incidents occurred.
Now they have been found, Zurich has decided to waive the requirement for the original settlement to be paid back as a gesture to the council and people of Ealing.
Southall Library has an impressive collection of Martinware pottery, dating from 1877 and 1923. Following a theft of 13 pieces from the collection in 2005, a member of the public contacted Ealing in June 2020 after his son had discovered the Wally Bird on eBay for £30,000. Working with the police, Art Recovery International, a number of experts and auction houses, the council managed to eventually recover the item.
Zurich Insurance has been known to support its customers with recovery of precious artefacts in the past. When the £1m “Wenlok” Jug was stolen from a museum in Luton in 2012, Crimewatch launched a national hunt and Zurich Insurance offered a £25,000 reward for its recovery. The jug was found in a Surrey lock-up hidden between stacks of tyres. The man who admitted handling the jug, Ronald Nash, from Tadworth in Surrey was jailed for three years and three months at Luton Crown Court.
Manny Manoharan, Libraries & Community Centres Service Manager at Ealing Borough Council said, “We were so pleased that the Martinware was recovered. That Zurich decided to waive the requirement for the original settlement to be paid back as a gesture to the council and people of Ealing was very generous. It is greatly appreciated, and I thank Zurich for making it.”
Paul Redington, Regional Major Loss Manager within Zurich’s Property Expert team, commented, “Ealing are a valued Zurich customer and effectively gifting back the Wally Bird and jug to the community in this way seemed like the only right thing to do for us. We fully appreciate the difficult situation our public sector customers find themselves in, not just due to challenges around arts and culture budgets, but also the Coronavirus pandemic has deprived many of them of additional income. But most importantly, precious artefacts like this should be enjoyed by local communities, and we are delighted that two pieces of the important Southall Martinware collection are back where they truly belong.”
From late-night break-ins to walk-in thefts, museums are increasingly being targeted by both opportunist criminals and organised gangs. Recent trends have seen thieves targeting animal horns and oriental artefacts such as jade. However, Zurich has also been involved in reviewing the security of items such as stamps, coins and medals.
Paul Redington added, “Unfortunately, claims relating to antiquities are on the increase. Claims experience shows that those perpetrating these thefts are often involved in other crimes, and the money generated is ploughed into other illicit activity.”
Redington says thieves often view museums as a “soft touch”, with walk-in thefts all too common. He also warns that many items are stolen to order and are rarely recovered.
“We are keen to help customers fight against this epidemic by working with them on risk awareness and prevention, learning from past experiences to better protect these important antiquities.”