"Cops hunt Queen Vic’s letters"
By Mark Blunden and Lewis Maughan
Detectives are trying to trace 40 rare letters from the nineteenth century, including correspondence from Queen Victoria and William Gladstone, after they were stolen from London’s biggest archives.
It was revealed this week that the letters and documents, worth “several hundred thousand pounds,” were taken from the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) in Northampton Road, Finsbury. Police have so far recovered 11 of 51 stolen documents, which were removed between April and December last year. Officers have refused to comment on whether they suspect the thefts were an “inside job” but it is understood that even more letters could be missing.
The items were taken from Lord Jersey’s collection and include letters from Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington. Also part of the Jersey Collection is correspondence from novelist Sir Walter Scott to Lord Byron and from Liberal prime minister William Gladstone to Sir Robert Peel, father of the modern police force.
A police source said: “In historical terms some of the items are unusual. We are looking at lots of things at the moment, which may lead to other archives. The LMA is really helping but this will be a lengthy investigation.”
The City of London, which runs the LMA, is refusing to comment on the thefts. A spokeswoman would only say that a “security review” is under way. The LMA is the primary archive for London, with files dating from 1160, and is also the biggest local authority archive in the UK. It includes tens of thousands of maps, documents, photographs of people, and business, charity, and diocese records.
It is unclear how the thief took the letters but gaining access to the documents is not easy. In order to view most archives, a written or e-mail request is initially required. Particularly “iconic” documents, like those in the Jersey Collection, are not accessible without applying for permission through the principal archivist, who vets applications to judge whether or not a request “is suitable.” If successful, though LMA officials say “it is unlikely,” members of the public will get permission to look at documents. Depending on the condition of the documents visitors may be able to handle them. But many of the thousands of documents held at the LMA are very delicate and cannot be handled by the public. An LMA official said: “We can’t allow everyone to hold the documents or very soon there will be nothing left of them . . . We don’t usually let people have access to iconic documents but you can look at copies of them on the web, or we have most copied to microfilm, which are kept here.”
Detective Sergeant Joe Lock, of Islington CID, is appealing for anyone who may have been offered “items of a similar nature without provenance” to contact him on 020 7421 0149.
Update: A man in his 40s from south west London has been arrested for theft and bailed pending further enquiries.
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