Serious lapses in security arrangements at the National Museum have emerged as investigations continue into last weeks’ robbery where priceless items were removed from the building.
Two watchers along with a supervisor were on duty at the time of the robbery at the 135-year-old Museum spread over four and a half acres of land bordering Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 07.
The Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) system had been malfunctioning for more than a month after the system had apparently been struck by lightning in the second week of February. The Vocational Training Authority entrusted in maintaining the system had delayed in the repairs.
These are some of the findings mentioned in a report submitted by a three member committee headed by Additional Secretary of the Ministry of National Heritage, D.G.Samarasinghe.
The report was handed over to the Minister Dr. Jagath Balasuriya on Wednesday.
Meanwhile the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) is carrying out its own probe.
But until Friday no breakthrough had been made in the investigations as the search for the stolen priceless items continues.
The loot includes 10 gold plated swords, 93 gold coins, a gem studded gold ring (one or more), two gem studded walking sticks used during the Kandyan era, a gold and silver plated sword with its casing (scabbard), a gold threaded waist belt, 18 silver rings, 50 silver coins, nine lead coins and 34 currency notes.
Minister Balasuriya told the Sunday Times that he strongly believed that persons employed in the Museum had a hand in the robbery. “Without the help of the employees this could not have succeeded,” he said adding that investigators believe that the person or persons involved in the robbery would have stayed overnight within the premises.
“We believe that the person or persons had stayed inside the building as a curtain had been removed and tied on to the hinge of a door to assist them to get out. There is no indication that they had scaled a wall or any other location to get into the building,” Dr Balasuriya said.
Last Saturday morning when watchers opened the Museum they discovered that something was amiss. Immediately a complaint was lodged at the Cinnamon Gardens police.
According to the minister earlier attempts to strengthen security at the Musuem had failed due to lack of funds. Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited a government- owned Commercial Security Venture functioning directly under the Ministry of Defence had asked for Rs five million, but the Ministry could not afford such an amount, he said.
Dr. Balasuriya also said requests to the Treasury for more funds had not met with a positive response until the break-in, while requests to the Police for added security around the Museum at nights, was also not heeded.
A museum official who did not wish to be named told the Sunday Times that he believed that the robbers’ main target would have been the section where the coins and weapons are located on the first floor. Officially known as section 11,12 and 13 they can be accessed through the same entrance.
He said that it appeared that the suspects had taken away some of the newer-looking commemorative coins leaving behind some of the more valuable ones that belonged to the Dutch and Portuguese period.
He said one of the items robbed was a sword scabbard studded with gems. The fact that the robbers had left behind the sword was an indication that the robbers may have had prior knowledge about the actual value of the items although they had entered a treasure trove in the museum.
Meanwhile the Sunday Times learns that following the break-in new precautionary steps are in place.
They include visitors being told to write down their names on a register before entering the Museum. Those visiting as a group have to write down the numbers visiting.
Additional police guards have been posted at the front and rear entrances.
|No entry: The stairway leading to the galleries that were robbed blocked. Pic by Indika Handuwala
Staff at the respective galleries have been asked to be extra vigilant and to keep a close surveillance on the visitors.
The Committee that probed the robbery has also recommended that a post of Chief Security officer be created and a request to this effect has been made to the Salaries and Cadres Committee.
Police Spokesman SP Ajith Rohana told the Sunday Times that they were confident that the suspects will be arrested shortly.
The Museum was reopened to the public on Thursday, but the first floor where the robbery was committed remains closed.
Many visitors had been curious to know from where the robbers had entered the Museum.
Among them was a 12 year old girl in school uniform who visited the place on Friday. On seeing a staffer she asked him innocently, ‘uncle, from where did the robbers enter’, to which he pointed at the place but became quite tearful as he did so.
CID report on probe so far
The CID has submitted a report to the Colombo Chief Magistrate Rashmi Singappuli about the progress of the investigations into the robbery.
Investigations unit OIC Inspector Roshan Masimbula said after the recent lightning strike the Director General of the National Museum Nanda Wickremesinghe had given permission to disconnect the power supplies to the CCTV Cameras.
The reports also said that the Vocational Training Institute, responsible for the maintenance of the CCTV system responding to a request by Museum officials to check the malfunction had said they would visit the premises on March 19 to attend to the repairs. However the robbery took place on March 16.
The CID informed that they had found a cap some beedi stumps, and hair from the premises while they had fingerprinted the curtains that had been used by the robbers to get away.
Statements from 14 Museum, officials and two technical advisors of the Vocational Training Institute have also been recorded while a technical report has been sought from the Information Technology unit of the Colombo University about the CCTV cameras.
The CID also sought permission to carryout a DNA test if required.
Further progress of the investigations will be reported to Courts on March 28.