Man denies breaking into Suffolk museum and stealing artefacts

Museum of East Anglian Life director Jenny Cousins following the alleged raid Picture: GREGG BROWN

Museum of East Anglian Life director Jenny Cousins following the alleged raid Picture: GREGG BROWN

A 56-year-old man has been accused of stealing almost £22,000 worth of artefacts – some considered irreplaceable – from a Suffolk museum dedicated to local history.

Paul Cope is charged with breaking into the Museum of East Anglian Life and stealing £21,978 of antique items at the beginning of the year.

Cope, of Cotswold Gardens, Hutton, near Brentwood, in Essex, appeared at Suffolk Magistrates’ Court, in Ipswich, on Tuesday.

He was charged with one count of non-domestic burglary and one count of theft.

Appearing without legal representation, Cope entered not guilty pleas to both charges – otherwise speaking only to confirm his name, address, date of birth and British nationality.

The burglary is alleged to have taken place at the museum in Stowmarket at some point over the last weekend of January.

Police received reports of a padlock being removed from a back gate and buildings being forced open on the 75-acre site.

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Prosecutor David Bryant said some of the missing artefacts were considered “irreplaceable”.

“It is the Crown’s case that the defendant broke into the buildings, and in doing so, caused damage,” he added, before asking magistrates to send the matter to the crown court for trial.

“Given the value, in excess of £20,000, and that there was damage in some thousands, aggravated by the fact it’s a heritage landmark, the Crown says your sentencing powers would not be sufficient to deal with this matter and invites you to send it to the crown court.”

Magistrates declined jurisdiction and sent the case to Ipswich Crown Court for a pre-trial hearing on December 4.

Cope was granted unconditional bail until his first appearance before a judge.

About 135 collection items were allegedly stolen from the museum – including white porcelain jars from the former Stern’s chemist in Stowmarket, and hats and ties from Ranson’s Tailors in Lavenham.

Lead was reportedly stripped from the back wall of Abbot’s Hall, causing damage to the roof and brickwork of the Grade II-listed house, built in 1709.

At the time, Lisa Harris, collection and interpretation manager, said the museum would have to rely on donations from the public in order to rebuild the collections.