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Police are hunting a gang of art thieves after four masked men broke into a museum in Bath and stole priceless jade and gold artefacts. The raid on the Museum of East Asian Art (MEAA) in Bennett Street took place at about 1.20am on Tuesday 17 April.

A jade monkey holding a peach.
A jade monkey holding a peach. Photograph: Avon and Somerset police

A first-floor window was smashed and the thieves broke into several display cabinets to steal a number of artefacts described as culturally significant. Among the objects taken were a jade monkey holding a peach, jade Mandarin ducks and a Chinese stoneware vase.

Police, who reached the scene within five minutes of the call alerting them, said the burglary was well planned and swift and the artefacts may have been stolen to order.

DS Matthew Reed said: “Due to the items stolen and the speed of the burglary, we suspect this to be a targeted attack with the artefacts possibly stolen to order. These items range in monetary value, but their cultural significance is priceless.

Jizhou vase
A Jizhou stoneware vase. Photograph: Avon and Somerset police

“I’d like to thank members of the public who have assisted us so far and ask anyone else who can help our inquiries to get in touch.”

Police have seized a white Ford Transit van that had been stolen from Ballance Street in Bath and was left at the scene. Officers are keen to hear from anyone who saw the vehicle being towed or moved overnight on Monday 16 to Tuesday 17 April.

Nicole Chiang, the museum’s curator, said: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the burglary as we are preparing for our 25th anniversary celebrations. Not only do the stolen objects have significant historical and cultural value, they also hold irreplaceable emotional value for our founder.”

Figure of Dongfang Shuo
A soapstone figure of Dongfang Shuo, a Han dynasty scholar. Photograph: Avon and Somerset police

Based in a restored Georgian townhouse close to the Royal Crescent, the MEAA bills itself as the only UK museum dedicated to the arts and cultures of eastern and south-eastern Asia. It opened in1993 and features thousands of objects from the region. Some of its Chinese art dates from 5,000BC.

The independent museum was founded by Brian McElney, a former lawyer and longtime resident of Hong Kong, who donated much of his personal collection to the museum. The MEAA website said it was closed due to unforeseen circumstances and would reopen next month.

A Mandarin duck with lotus flowers. > Facebook > Twitter > Pinterest
A Mandarin duck with lotus flowers. Photograph: Avon and Somerset police

The police said the items taken were: a jade monkey holding a peach, approximately 5.7cm by 2.6cm; jade mandarin ducks with lotus flowers, 7.1cm by 4.9cm by 6.3cm; an inlaid wooden covered box, 24.5cm by 14cm by 9cm; a soapstone figure of the Han dynasty scholar, writer and jester Dongfang Shuo, 11cm tall; a set of 14 gold belt plaques, ranging from 4.5cm to 12cm in length; and a Jizhou stoneware vase, 16.5cm tall and 12cm in diameter.

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Priceless east Asian artefacts stolen from Bath museum
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