Art thieves who stole more than £1m of artefacts from a museum in Durham have had their sentences cut from eight years to seven years each – because they lost the items they had stolen.

Adrian Stanton and Lee Wildman hid their loot in a field, but then forgot where it was, meaning the items were recovered by the museum unharmed.

Judges at the Court of Appeal decided that the fact that the artefacts were returned to the museum without being damaged was a relevant factor in sentencing and decided the original tariff was “excessive” – although it was only down to their “crass ineptitude” that the items were not lost forever.

The pair had travelled up from Walsall to raid Durham University’s Oriental Museum in April last year by cutting a hole in the brick wall. They took a porcelain figure and a jade bowl and hid them in nearby wasteland.

Two days later, Wildman was seen searching for the artefacts by a member of the public.

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle and were jailed for eight years each at Durham Crown Court in July last year.

Chris Sabian is a portrait artist with http://www.kutefineart.com and owner of http://www.paragonprints.co.uk