VALUABLE Chinese artefacts stolen in a daring museum heist will not now be returned to their rightful home until the New Year.
Bosses at the Oriental Museum in Elvet Hill, Durham, had hoped to have a solid jade bowl and an 18th Century porcelain figurine back on display before Christmas.
But a delay in the sentencing of those who have admitted responsibility for the theft means they are not now likely to be returned to the museum until February next year at the earliest.
Meanwhile the items, valued at around £2m, remain in protective police custody.
And the identity of the crime master who ordered the audacious heist remains shrouded in mystery.
Dr Craig Barclay, curator of Durham University’s Oriental Museum, said: “We are very much looking forward to having the artefacts returned to us.
“There are no immediate plans to put them back on display.”
They will not be returned until legal proceedings are completed.
Last week a Newton Hearing at Durham Crown Court was intended to have established the exact role played by two men who have admitted the theft.
The hearing was arranged after a judge said back in August that he was not satisfied with the account given by two of the accused, Lee Wildman and Adrian Stanton, about the role they played in stealing the treasures.
Wildman, 35, and Stanton, 32, both of Walsall, West Midlands, had admitted conspiracy to commit burglary together with others at the museum on Old Elvet on April 5, at an earlier hearing.
But it was on the basis, in both cases, that they were not the intruders in the museum. But Judge John Milford told the pair and their barrister that, after reading up reports on the case, he was not prepared to accept their pleas on that basis.