May 19 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, June 28, 2012
A man has admitted his part in the attempted theft of a rhino head, believed to be worth several hundred thousand pounds, from the city’s castle museum.
Nihad Mahmod, 21, appeared at Norwich Magistrates Court yesterday charged with attempting to steal a rhino head from the castle museum on February 20.
Mahmod, an Iraqi national, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to the offence and to breaching a conditional discharge imposed by Central Kent Magistrates Court on December 23 last year in relation to another theft offence.
He was remanded in custody and committed to Norwich Crown Court to be sentenced at a later date as magistrates have insufficient powers to deal with the offence.
The attempted theft, which happened at about noon, followed a theft from Ipswich Museum where a rhino horn was stolen, while raids have also happened at museums in Europe including ones in Florence and Brussels.
Rhino horn is prized in Chinese medicine for its alleged aphrodisiac qualities – and said to be twice as valuable as gold.
Denis King, prosecuting, said it was a “fairly blatant”, “organised” and “sophisticated” offence in which four men, including the defendant, entered the castle museum at about noon before expressing an interest in the rhino head exhibit in a glass cabinet.
Mr King said the four men, all dressed in dark clothing and woollen hats and who spoke in foreign accents, were later seen leaving by members of the public and staff wearing balaclavas.
He said: “They were then seen to be struggling to carry the said rhino head.”
Members of staff then tried to prevent them from leaving before the head “falls to the floor” and the four men run from the castle museum before getting into a Renault Laguna.
The car was later seen by a member of public who witnessed one of the men get out and remove false number plates.
Mr King, who urged magistrates to commit the case to crown court because of the high value of the rhino head, said Mahmod’s finger prints were traced to the false number plates.
Michael Cole, mitigating, said the offence was carried out in front of a number of members of the public and in full view of CCTV cameras so argued it was not as sophisticated as the crown suggested.
He said Mahmod had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and was homeless and looking to go back to Iraq.
Charles Nevick, chair of the bench of magistrates, told Mahmod, who was wearing a black T-Shirt with white panther motif, the offence was so serious he should receive greater punishment than the magistrates court could impose and so committed it to crown court for sentence on a date to be fixed.
Detective Inspector Andy Ninham, investigating officer, said he was pleased someone had admitted their part in the offence and was “grateful” to the member of public for the information about the false plates.
But Det Insp Ninham said police were still looking to apprehend other offenders in connection with the attempted theft.
He said: “It’s quite clearly well planned, just poorly executed on the day. We’re pleased to have traced him and we’re still seeking his associates; it’s very much a live investigation.
”We’re still pursuing a number of leads so I’m confident that there will be further arrests in due course.”
The attempted theft follows similar raids at other museums across the country, and Det Insp Ninham said police were looking at whether or not this gang has targeted other museums elsewhere.
He said: “We’ve been in contact with colleagues across the country where similar offences have taken place and we’re looking at the possibility of the crimes being connected but at the moment can’t give you any information to say whether it’s part of a bigger picture.
“All I can do is confirm we’ve been in contact with other forces to look at the possibility. We’re open to all possibilities.”
However police are confident the gang have no connection to an offence which happened just a few days after the attempted rhino head theft in which a number of Lord Nelson artefacts worth more than £36,000 were stolen from the castle museum.
Det Insp Ninham said: “It’s unfortunate that the two thefts happened so close together. As far as we’re can establish there’s no connection between the two whatsoever. I think it was just unfortunate.”
The crimes prompted an internal review into security at Norwich Castle with officials having spent about £15,000 making improvements, including upgrading CCTV, locks and alarms, with the report having noted the security of several display cases in Norfolk’s museums were not up to standard.
Further security changes are planned, although no cost has yet to be finalised.
Vanessa Trevelyan, head of the museums service, was last week questioned by county councillors in an attempt to get assurances Norfolk’s valuable artefacts were being protected.
Anyone with any information about either crime should call police on 101.
Have you got a crime story? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email firstname.lastname@example.org