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Golden toilet stolen from Blenheim Palace

The loo – part of an art exhibition at Winston Churchill’s birthplace – was apparently taken in the early hours of Saturday.

A solid gold toilet which has been stolen from Blenheim Palace (Jacopo Zotti (Guggenheim Museum 2016/PA)
A solid gold toilet which has been stolen from Blenheim Palace (Jacopo Zotti (Guggenheim Museum 2016/PA)

By Caitlin Doherty and Thomas Hornall, PA

Police are searching for a solid gold toilet stolen from the birthplace of Winston Churchill.

Valued at £1 million and installed as part of an art exhibition at Blenheim Palace, the 18-carat loo was taken in the early hours of Saturday, Thames Valley Police said.

The theft of the fully functioning piece, named America and designed by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, caused significant flood damage at the 18th-century Oxfordshire estate as it had been plumbed in for visitors to use.

A 66-year-old man has been arrested over the incident and the palace was closed to the public on Saturday.

Inspector Richard Nicholls from Thames Valley Police said: “A group of offenders broke into the palace and stole a high value toilet made out of gold that was on display.

“We believe they used at least two vehicles during the offence and left the scene at around 4.50am.

“The artwork has not been recovered at this time, but there is a thorough investigation being carried out.”

Asked if a reception party reportedly held on Thursday, the night of the exhibition’s launch, could be connected, Insp Nicholls added: “I am not aware of the reception party personally, but that would form part of our enquiries in order to ascertain events leading up to the item being stolen.”

He added commenting on how the property was accessed “would be speculation at the moment”.

The sculpture hit the headlines last year after it was offered to US President Donald Trump by the chief curator of the Guggenheim museum in New York, its former home.

It was installed at the country home of the aristocratic Marlborough family as part of exhibition by conceptual artist Cattelan which began on Thursday.

The theft comes after the Duke of Marlborough’s half-brother, Edward Spencer-Churchill, said last month it wouldn’t be “the easiest thing to nick”.

Mr Spencer-Churchill told the Times: “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 to be guarding it.”

The golden toilet had proved popular at the Guggenheim and has been described by critics as a pointed satire against the excesses of wealth.

Cattelan has previously said: “Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.”

More than 100,000 people made use of its “participatory nature” at the Fifth Avenue museum between 2016 and 2017, making available to the public “an extravagant luxury product seemingly intended for the 1%,” said the Guggenheim website.

It gained renewed attention last year when the White House requested to borrow a Vincent van Gogh painting for Mr Trump and his wife Melania’s private living area, the Washington Post reported.

Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector declined the request but, perhaps with Mr Trump’s penchant for all things gold in mind, offered the toilet instead.

Thames Valley Police said they were called to reports of a burglary at the Oxfordshire estate shortly before 5am on Saturday.

Detective Inspector Jess Milne said: “The piece of art that has been stolen is a high value toilet made out of gold that was on display at the palace.

“The artwork has not been recovered at this time, but we are conducting a thorough investigation to find it and bring those responsible to justice.”

Cattelan’s exhibition is scheduled to run at World Heritage Site Blenheim Palace from September 12 until October 27, with tickets costing £27.

Blenheim Palace chief executive Dominic Hare urged anyone with any information to contact police.

He said: “We are saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no-one was hurt.

“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.

“It’s therefore a great shame an item so precious has been taken, but we still have so many fascinating treasures in the palace and the remaining items of the exhibition to share.

“The investigation continues, but it will be business as usual from tomorrow, so visitors can continue to come and experience all we have to offer.

“If anyone knows or saw anything suspicious in connection with the event that may help us secure its return please contact Thames Valley Police.”

Mr Churchill was born at Blenheim on November 30 1874.

PA

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