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Court convicts former British major who stole tanks from Brussels museum

13:30 13/09/2021

A retired British major has been convicted of stealing 20 historical military vehicles from several European countries, including from the Museum of the Armed Forces in Brussels. The man conned the museum in Cinquantenaire out of five tanks, an anti-aircraft gun, two troop transport vehicles, three armoured cars, a Bombardier motorcycle and a BMW motorcycle.

Between 2001 and 2011, Michael Whatley convinced museums in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany to loan valuable pieces from their war-time collections to the Household Cavalry Museum in London. While Whatley, now 65, was long associated with the museum, he was not in fact representing the institution when he ‘borrowed’ the items. He was simply amassing a private collection.

He eventually had a collection of more than 20 military vehicles, including tanks, and numerous other pieces of equipment. He stored the items on the property of the UK’s ministry of defence, also under the auspices of the Household Cavalry Museum, which in fact knew nothing of the transactions.

Sold for personal gain

Sometimes Whatley offered the international museums pieces in trade, but they never received these items. He even sold some of the military artefacts to other collectors. Although it is unclear how much of the Brussels collection is still in Whatley’s possession, the museum told Bruzz that they would work to get it all back.

Whatley was convicted by the Salisbury Crown Court of misconduct in a public office and sentenced to two years suspended. He must also complete 150 hours of public service and pay a fine of £1,500 (€1,758).

“You are a disgrace,” said the judge when handing down the sentence. “You were a very distinguished man, a major in one of the oldest regiments in the British Army. You should be bitterly ashamed of your conduct. I don’t want to minimise the effect actions such as yours has upon public confidence in the army.”

An IKV91 light tank with 90mm gun, one of the more than 20 military vehicles stolen by Michael Whatley
©Salisbury Crown Court


Written by Lisa Bradshaw