Museums director Karen Perkins says that she has not stopped smiling since police recovered the £750,000 Wenlok Jug early on Monday.
The rare historical artefact was stolen in a smash and grab raid from the Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton, in May but found in a garage lock up in Tadworth in Surrey after police raided a nearby house.
Delighted Ms Perkins told the H&P: “It’s fantastic to have the jug back. I haven’t stopped smiling in the last 48 hours.
“It’s all thanks to Bedfordshire Police who have worked tirelessly since May and worked very closely with us.”
Police had released CCTV footage of the robbery and made a TV appeal for information on the BBC’s Crimewatch programme following the theft of the much-prized bronze jug which was famously brought home to Luton in 2006.
But Ms Perkins remained confident throughout the investigation that the jug, which dates back to around 1400-1500 AD, would be safely returned despite fears that thieves could attempt to melt it down.
She added: “I harboured hope but I have to say that I wasn’t entirely convinced that we would get it back. From the start we made a point of saying ‘don’t melt it down it’s not worth anything’ because there was always a chance that if people kept it as it was it would still exist in the world and eventually it could be found.
“The minute it’s melted down it’s gone.”
Ms Perkins confirmed that the historical piece will eventually go back on display at Stockwood Discovery Centre but insisted that security at the museum will be tightened in the wake of the theft.
She said: “Since it happened we’ve done a fundamental review of all our security in the service at both our museum sites because things like this make you look at everything again.
“We will definitely be putting it back on display as an original object, we will not be putting a replica on display unless it’s off having conservation work for example, but we will be ensuring that the security levels are significantly improved.
“Across the board it’s made us think about everything from our alarm system to lighting to CCTV. A full review has been carried out and we’re now implementing some changes.”
Apart from some minor abrasion on the jug’s spout and a few scratches and marks on its main body, the artefact seems to have been returned relatively unscathed and Ms Perkins says that no restoration work will be carried out on it as the theft has become part of the history of the piece.
Det Insp Martin Peters from Beds Police said: “An extensive police operation has been under way to recover the jug since it was taken in May and we executed some warrants in Tadworth in Surrey in the early hours of Monday morning. Two people were arrested and the jug was found in a lock-up garage nearby. One of those people has been charged with handling stolen goods.”
> Ronald Nash, aged 23, of Tadworth in Surrey, appeared at Luton Magistrates Court yesterday morning charged with handling stolen property. A second 47-year-old man has been released on bail pending further enquiries.