Thieves steal expensive African artefacts in raid on stately home

Artefacts were stolen from Biel House. Picture Geograph/CC

Artefacts were stolen from Biel House. Picture Geograph/CC

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Thieves have stolen thousands of pounds worth of African artefacts and historic weaponry from a stately home.

Items from a rare collection of historical artefacts were targeted, including ancient objects from Africa, mounted animal heads, swords, daggers, spears and arrows.

Police are asking anyone who was in the area at the time or who has been offered any of these items for sale, to contact them.

Owner Charlie Spence said the items were likely to have been stolen to order.

At least two thieves prised open shuttered windows, bypassed an alarm system and went up a spiral staircase to the museum in the fifth floor of the mansion’s tower.

The break-in was discovered by workmen who spotted lights on inside the tower the following morning.

Mr Spence, 67, whose father bought the property in 1956, said: “These items were targeted, taken to order. They knew exactly what they were doing.

“They got through a window where the shutter was shut, with a steel bar across it. They even bypassed an alarm.

“They took African artefacts, spears, arrowheads and a whole bunch of swords, not necessarily African. There were all kinds of swords and cutlasses, some with saws on the reverse to slash and hack through the bush.

“There were a lot of ‘antlers’ – horns and skulls – on the wall. All the indigenous species they ignored but all the exotic African animals was taken. Things with great grisly horns, some may be extinct.

“They are completely unique. They were collected by previous owners, but we have been custodians since 1956. They just ignored other things.”

Mr Spence said the theft would have been carried out by “at least two people”.

He admitted it was possible that the suspects had previously toured the property, which is open to visitors only by written appointment.

He added: “They had knowledge of the house. They knew the lay of the land very well because it’s a very difficult room to get to. It’s on the fifth floor of the tower – you’d have to know where you were going. You also have to go up a spiral staircase, which has just had lights fitted. The lights were left on the next morning.”

Mr Spence said he was not at home when the break-in happened.

Police Constable Karen Hamilton said: “These artefacts have been in the museum at Biel House for many years and we are keen to make sure these are returned to where they belong.”

Originally owned by the Earls of Dunbar, the present 16th century listed mansion incorporates their 14th century tower house. It was remodelled in Gothic style in the 19th century.