Blenheim Palace has insisted it has a ‘sophisticated security system’ despite thieves mounting a ‘smash and grab raid’ and stealing an 18-karat gold toilet in the middle of the night.
Dominic Hare told the BBC that a gang ‘mounted a very fast’ raid on the Oxfordshire palace overnight, stealing a fully functional loo worth $5m to $6m before security could respond.
The artwork, which has not yet been found, had been installed at Winston Churchill’s birthplace as part of a high-profile art exhibition due to open on Saturday.
But in the early hours, police were called to the stately home and found the solid gold toilet gone and water gushing over the floor, causing extensive damage.
Dominic Hare said a gang ‘mounted a very fast smash-and-grab raid’ on Blenheim Palace overnight, stealing a fully functional loo worth $5m to $6m
Blenheim Palace, which was closed after the burglary on Saturday but re-opened on Sunday, has not yet revealed how much the toilet was insured for, if at all.
Thames Valley Police confirmed a 66-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the theft on Saturday.
Speaking on BBC 5 Live, Mr Hare said this was the ‘first theft of its type in living memory’ from the palace, and confirmed the home has a ‘sophisticated security system’.
He said: ‘We have a sophisticated security system and we have not had a theft of this type in living memory. But what’s happened has happened and so we clearly need to challenge ourselves on that.
‘We have security on site. A group of men in two vehicles mounted a very fast smash and grab raid before security could respond.
‘The sadness is that unlike most art, its constituent parts are valuable anyway so it’s not out of the question it will be melted down’.
Police confirmed this morning that they are making ‘every effort’ to locate the thieves and the stolen toilet – and will remain ‘in and around’ Blenheim Palace as investigations continue.
The golden lavatory titled ‘America’ was created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The toilet was created for the Guggenheim Museum in New York (pictured), where more than 100,000 people queued to use the security-guarded loo
Investigating officer Detective Inspector Jess Milne said: ‘We are following a number of lines of enquiry and there will continue to be a police presence in and around the area of Blenheim Palace while our investigations continue.
‘We are making every effort to locate the offenders and the toilet that was stolen.’
Sources at the estate, near Woodstock, said the gang used a heavy vehicle, believed to be a 4×4, to break down a large metal gate on the estate and drive to the palace. Several broken window panes near the Great Court suggested one possible entry point, but police refused to comment.
However, quite how thieves moved the hefty item remains a mystery. A palace source said there was a ‘lot of consternation’ about how they had been able to get inside and spend so long at their task.
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire tweeted that the palace would be closed on Saturday ‘due to an unforeseen incident’ but it opened its gates on Sunday
Chief executive for Blenheim Palace Dominic Hare (pictured) said this was the ‘first theft of its type in living memory’, and confirmed the home has a ‘sophisticated security system’
‘There’s a lot of serious art in the palace,’ said the source, ‘but these guys were clearly highly professional and knew what they were about.
‘They could have studied the palace on the internet, or as made as many visits as they needed to, familiarising themselves with the layout.
‘We can only assume they took the gold purely for its intrinsic value to be melted down, because a gold loo is not going to be easy to conceal for very long.’
In what now seems a remarkable display of hubris, Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill last month said he had no plans to guard the valuable WC, which was part of an exhibition from the Italian ‘prankster of the art world’, Maurizio Cattelan.
Thames Valley Police (pictured at Blenheim Palace yesterday) confirmed a 66-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the theft
‘It’s not going to be the easiest thing to nick,’ said the Duke of Marlborough’s half-brother. ‘Firstly it’s plumbed in, and secondly a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don’t plan on guarding it.’
The Cattelan exhibition – which also includes lifelike models of a praying Hitler and Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteorite – was launched with a glittering dinner on Friday night. It is believed to have been attended by the artist himself.
Once open, visitors would have been able to book a three-minute slot to use the gold toilet as part of the £27 admission price. The piece, entitled America, was placed opposite the room where Churchill was born in 1874.
Blenheim Palace tweeted that the palace would be closed ‘due to an unforeseen incident’ and apologised for any inconvenience caused
Him, is a realistic model of a schoolboy version of Adolf Hitler on his knees praying. It has been placed in the organ room at Blenheim for visitors to see for themselves. The controversial work is one of many on show at Blenheim this autumn
It had previously been on display at the Guggenheim in New York during Donald Trump’s election campaign, when more than 100,000 people used it.
The museum subsequently offered to lend it to the White House – rather than a Van Gogh Trump’s staff originally asked for – but officials declined the offer.
Speaking to the The Mail on Sunday last night, Mr Hare said: ‘We are saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no one was hurt and that nothing else was stolen.
‘This would have taken some planning. I’m not exactly sure how much the toilet weighs, but it’s certainly a lot – two grown men would struggle to lift it.
‘Even apart from the artwork that was taken, which is worth around £4.8 million, there are many other valuable pieces, both in the exhibition and on display in the palace’s own collection.
‘La Nona Ora’, translated as ‘the ninth hour’ is the name given to Cattelan’s realistic model of Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteorite. It is one of many controversial pieces placed in and around Blenheim Palace this autumn
However, he promised it would be ‘business as usual’ for visitors and the exhibition as the investigation continues. A 66-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the break-in, and police have appealed for information.
Detective Inspector Jess Milne, of Thames Valley Police, said on Saturday: ‘The piece of art that has been stolen is a high-value toilet made out of gold that was on display at the palace.
‘Due to the toilet being plumbed in to the building, this has caused significant damage and flooding. We believe a group of offenders used at least two vehicles during the offence.’
Detectives believe the gang left the estate just before 5am. Yesterday, the five-bar gate they smashed to enter the 120,000-acre estate was being guarded.
Mr Hare added: ‘We are very grateful to our staff and to Thames Valley Police for their rapid and brave reactions.
‘We knew there was huge interest in the Maurizio Cattelan contemporary art exhibition, with many set to come and enjoy the installations. But we still have so many fascinating treasures in the palace and the remaining items of the exhibition to share.’