South Devon news
A 71-year-old antiques dealer who acted as a fence for a gang of professional jewel thieves he nicknamed 'The Firm' has been remanded in custody to await sentence.
At Exeter Crown Court 71-year-old Kenneth Paterson was convicted by a jury on two charges of possessing criminal property.Paterson was covertly filmed by an undercover police officer trying to buy two stolen rings and he was also recording dealing with the same officer who was posing as a criminal from Belfast.
The officer know only as 'John' had infiltrated an antiques business in Torquay which was being used as a front for buying and disposing of gems, heirloom and treasures stolen in raids on properties throughout Devon.
In Operation Moonstone Linda Nichols, the owner of Upstairs Downstairs in St. Marychurch, was flushed out as a major fence for stolen property in Torbay.
Paterson was a regular at the shop and it was while he was there he was introduced to John and started dealing with him.
The undercover police operation led officers to raid Paterson's home and there in a storeroom they found display cabinets full of jewellery, watches and other sentimental items stolen in the house raids.
During the trial the jury listened to victims tell how they were devastated and traumatised at being burgled and having their lifelong treasures stolen. Police found 34 stolen items worth many thousands of pounds in Paterson's storeroom.
Paterson told the court that he had acted 'foolishly' when dealing with John but was trying to get rid of items he thought were 'dodgy' because of the price he had paid for them. Of other jewellery found at his premises he said he did not know the items were stolen. He used to buy at car boot sales and markets and did not ask questions because most of his purchases were 'run of the mill' stock for his stall.
Paterson was convicted on the two charges by majority verdicts after the jury had retired for more than seven hours spread over two days. He was cleared of three other similar charges.
Prosecutor Malcolm Galloway said Paterson had previous convictions for handling stolen goods and a burglary in Truro where he and another forced their way into a bungalow and stole clocks, jewellery and other antiques worth £6,000.
At a previous court hearing Paterson had pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods and had received a six months prison sentence suspended for 12 months because at the time he was looking after his wife who was terminally ill with cancer.
Mr Galloway said 56-year-old Linda Nichols who ran Upstairs Downstairs in St Marychurch, Torquay had played a pivotal role in acting as a fence for gems and other valuables stolen in house raids across Devon. It was estimated she had benefited to the tune over £911,000 and when she admitted conspiracy to handle stolen goods and handling stolen goods she was jailed for three years.
Following his convictions on the two charges Paterson was remanded in custody for the preparation of a pre-sentence report.
He was told by Recorder Richard Stead: "These are extremely serious matters and I am considering a custodial sentence."