Yesterday, the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf ran an editorial suggesting that a notorious Irish criminal gang was “almost certainly” responsible for the burglary and multi-million euro art theft from the Rotterdam Kunsthal in October last year. The source of this speculation was the internationally renowned art detective Charles Hill. According to De Telegraaf:
“The retired English top agent, who for years was the head of Scotland Yard’s Art Squad, emphasized that the two burglars struck very professionally. The burglary took only two and half minutes, and was prepared in detail. That method calls in mind the Rathkeale Rovers, who currently strike all over Europe, said Hill. The British detective in the past was involved in undercover operations throughout the world, solving numerous notorious art thefts including the theft of The Scream (Munch) and Writing Woman with Maid (Vermeer).“
Hill’s ability to predict the perpetrators in these cases — shamelessly offering his services as a mediator in the Kunsthal heist at the same time as criticizing Rotterdam police — is becoming embarrassing.
Some years ago, Benvenuto Cellini’s saliera (salt cellar), worth over 20 million euros, was stolen with almost childish simplicity from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. On that occasion, Hill stated with absolute certainty that a Serbian gang was responsible and that the theft would soon be solved. He was correct on that last point; shortly after Hill articulated these Balkan fantasies, a native of Vienna was arrested. The man responsible, drunk and totally unprepared, had climbed the scaffolding in front of the museum, smashed a window, then broke into a display case, grabbed the salt cellar and ran off. The burglary and theft took just 58 seconds, a scenario somewhat different to Hill’s assertion that it had been the work of Serbian professionals.
Hill also stated that the intruder alarm detectors attached to the window had been tampered with from the outside, thereby confirming that his knowledge of these systems is next to zero.
Now Hill is at it again, asserting that an Irish gang is behind the burglary at the Kunsthal. It is true that an Irish gang roams (or roamed) through Europe, breaking into museums. However, these were predominantly natural history museums targeted for their rhino horn.
Perhaps it’s time the retired Scotland Yard art sleuth spent a little more time on the golf course instead of venturing outlandish predictions based on fantasy rather than fact.
An Irish gang? If so, it was a gang with connections in Romania. Three suspected perpetrators have just been arrested there.