Court told how police sting led to millions in antiquesAN undercover police officer helped to recover millions of pounds worth of stolen antiques after infiltrating the Yorkshire gang who were hoarding them.
Three members of the gang were jailed yesterday over the scam in which they stored heritage pieces stolen from stately homes. Some of the items were from Newby Hall, in Ripon, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and is home to a prized collection of Chippendale furniture as well as Gobelins tapestries.
Other properties which were targeted included Lotherton Hall, near Leeds, another in North Yorkshire, Sion Hill, one of the last Edwardian country houses to be built in the region prior to the First World War, as well as Firle Place in Sussex, which dates from the late 15th century.
Among the valuables were a George III Pembroke Chippendale drop leaf table worth £500,000 and two Louis XVI vases valued at £950,000.
Darren Webster, 46, of Burnshaw Mews, Middleton, Leeds, was jailed for six-and-a-half years; Carl Rutter, of Silcoates Street, Wakefield, was jailed for six years and Brian Eaton, 70, of Chapel Road, Tankersley, in Barnsley, was jailed for four years. All three men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen goods.
Leeds Crown Court heard police became aware of the their involvement by being told by Graham Harkin(actual thief of the said artworks) as part of a deal, then shortly after carrying out a drugs raid at Webster’s home in Middleton in April 2011.
A search recovered a computer memory stick and SIM card which contained photographs of stolen antiques.
An undercover police officer approached Eaton, as is always the case in these matters, pretending that he wanted to store stolen cars. After gaining his trust the officer, known as ‘Jason’, began to talk about buying stolen antiques.
Eaton told him that he knew someone who stored stolen antiques but any pieces bought would have to be shipped abroad because they were so well known.
‘Jason’ told the men that he knew a buyer overseas and was further able to gain their trust. All three gang members were arrested in September 2011.
The burglar responsible for targeting the stately homes, Graham Harkin, is currently serving nine years in prison, albeit with better conditions as a result of him guiding Police towards Eaton Webster and Rutter.
Jailing them, judge James Spencer said: “He could not have carried out those burglaries without some prospect of disposing of them. It is because of that that the real evil of handling exists.”
Gang in court over £5m antique thefts from North Yorkshire stately homesA GANG has admitted conspiring to handle historically important antiques worth £5m which were stolen from country estates, including two in North Yorkshire.
Carl Rutter, 46, of Silcoates St, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, who appeared in court today, was described by officers as a "significant conspirator", the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit said.
He pleaded guilty at Leeds Crown Court to conspiring to handle the items and will be sentenced with two other men in about four weeks, the unit added.
The valuables, reported stolen from Newby Hall, near Ripon, Sion Hill, near Thirsk and Firle Place in Sussex, included a pair of Louis XVI vases valued at almost £1m and a Chippendale table worth around £500,000, according to officers.
The internationally important twin-leaf Pembroke table was taken from Newby Hall in 2007. It was commissioned by estate owner Richard Compton's ancestor, William Weddell, in 1775.
Darren Webster, 45, of Burnshaw Mews, Leeds, and Brian Eaton, 69, of Chapel Road, Tankersley, Barnsley, appeared in court in August 2012 charged with the same offences as Rutter. Both pleaded guilty but have been awaiting sentence subject to the outcome of Rutter's case.
A total of 14 items were recovered from Eaton and Webster's homes. All have now been returned to the estates.
A Crime Unit spokesman said: "Rutter had overall possession of a number of the stolen antiques which had been stored on his behalf with a view to being sold later.
"Both Eaton and Webster also had possession of a large number of the antiques, some stored at Eaton's home address.
"Webster was described by officers as the lead conspirator while Eaton was responsible for introducing prospective buyers of the antiques to Webster and Rutter.
"The valuables, known to be of significant and cultural historic value and worth a total of £5m, were recovered by officers from the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit on September 22, 2011.
"It marked the culmination of a year-long investigation."
Detective Superintendent Steve Waite, head of regional intelligence, said: "We were immensely pleased and proud back in September 2011 to have recovered these high value antiques which were described as true pieces of British heritage.
"Today's plea brings this absolutely fantastic case one step closer to its conclusion. It's a great result for both the officers involved and the stately homes that were affected by these thefts."
National Trust member jailed after stealing £1.2million of antiques from stately homes
But there was one thing that set National Trust member Geoffrey Harkin apart from his fellow sightseers examining the treasures on show.
The 58-year-old grandfather would later return to the grand properties – and burgle them.
In total, he stole antiques worth more than £1.2million from mansions across the country. The items have never been recovered.
His targets included Firle Place near Lewes, East Sussex, where he stole nationally important Sevres porcelain worth more than £1million in a burglary that was to feature on Crimewatch.
A pair of identical vases made in 1763 and a Hollandaise Nouveau vase were among the pieces taken in July 2009.
At Longnor Hall in Shropshire he stole antiques worth more than £27,000.
And he took a £200,000 clock by Thomas Tompion – who lived from 1639 to 1713 and is regarded as the father of English clockmaking – from Levens Hall, near Kendal in Cumbria.
It was the clock that was to be his undoing. Using a false name, he later told the owners he would give it to them in return for an advertised £20,000 reward, and £5,000 for himself, as long as they did not tell the police.
Officers found the clock in the boot of his BMW, along with his phone, which when examined was used to place him at the locations of the other burglaries when they were committed.
He also had on him his National Trust membership card – ‘an essential bit of kit for a country house burglar’, Tim Evans, prosecuting, told Carlisle Crown Court yesterday.
Mr Evans told the court: ‘Mr Harkin is a professional country house burglar. There is nothing at all charming or entertaining about these crimes. They are not like the books featuring Raffles [the gentleman thief in the stories by E W Hornung].
‘These were precious, irreplaceable antiques. It represents the looting of the history and heritage of this country for profit.
‘There is no indication of the whereabouts of any of these items. It remains a mystery.’
Judge Peter Hughes, QC, gave Harkin concurrent sentences of nine years for the Firle Place burglary, seven years for the Longnor Hall burglary and five years for handling the Tompion clock. The court was told he had 18 previous convictions, mainly for theft and dishonesty.
His associate Gary Swindell, 58, was jailed for three years after the jury found him guilty of handling stolen goods. Swindell, from Bradford, sold 11 items Harkin stole from Longnor Hall in Shropshire, worth £7,700, at a car boot sale in York.
Judge Hughes told Harkin: ‘That superb collection of porcelain has been lost. Over £1million worth that had been passed down through generations is unaccounted for and is unlikely to ever be put back together again.
Lord Henry Gage, whose father Viscount Gage, 75, owns Firle Place, said: ‘We thought it was like Fort Knox, but the burglar knew what he was doing. The collection we thought was completely safe has been impaired. The items were of national importance.’
Burglar Graham Harkin has appeal turned down
The 59-year-old from West Yorkshire was caught when he tried to claim a reward for a stolen clock.
Mr Justice Parker told London's Criminal Appeal Court the sentence was "not manifestly excessive".
The court was told Harkin, from Chestnut Walk in Wakefield, had pleaded guilty to two burglaries and one count of handling stolen goods.
The National Trust member had taken a nationally important collection of porcelain from Firle Place in East Sussex which has never been recovered. He also stole porcelain valued at £27,000 from Longnor Hall near Shrewsbury in Shropshire.
He was arrested after meeting undercover police officers at services on the M62 near Rochdale in Greater Manchester to claim a £20,000 reward for a Thomas Tompion clock valued at £200,000 which had been stolen from Levens Hall near Kendal in Cumbria.
Dismissing the appeal, Judge Parker said Harker had deliberately targeted high value items.
"He did guided tours first, posing as an ordinary visitor. These items were cherished not just by their owners, but by members of the public.
"He could have given police information that would have led to the recovery of the stolen items, but he chose not to do so. He was playing for high stakes and he lost," he said.
Court hears Levens Hall clock theft man made £600,000 from targeting historic houseshttp://www.thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk/news/9932548.Court_hears_Levens_Hall_clock_theft_man_made___600_000_from_targeting_historic_houses/
A CAREER criminal involved in the theft of a nationally important antique clock from Levens Hall made £600,000 by targeting that and some of England’s other most historic houses, a court has heard.
Graham Geoffrey Harkin, 59, joined a tour of the stately home so he could decide which items should be stolen.
A few days later, on September 19, 2009, accomplices broke into the house and stole several antique pieces, including a 300-year-old clock, made by Thomas Tompion.
Harkin might have got away with it, Carlisle Crown Court heard, if he had not contacted Levens owner Hal Bagot, saying he could recover the clock for a £25,000 reward.
As a result police set up a ‘sting’ in which Harkin was arrested.
And then they discovered he had been responsible for burglaries and thefts in other parts of the country too.
Last year Harkin was jailed for nine years after pleading guilty to burgling two historic houses — Longner Hall in Shropshire, and Firle Place, a country estate in Sussex, from which he took porcelain worth about £1 million — and handling the clock stolen from Levens Hall.
Two other charges — burgling a National Trust property in Cornwall and stealing a £50,000 sundial from Dalemain House, near Penrith — were left lying on the court file and were not proceeded with.
Harkin. of Chestnut Walk, Wakefield, Yorkshire, was back at Carlisle Crown Court on Friday for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
He admitted making £600,000 from his crimes but the judge accepted that he could be made to pay back only £10,000 of his profits, since his only realisable asset is a £10,000 share of the house he co-owns with his wife.
Nearly £6,000 of that will have to go to paying off another Proceeds of Crime order made after a series of similar crimes in West Yorkshire.
If he fails to pay within six months he will go to prison for an extra four months.
Art Hostage Comments:
News from sources on both sides of the divide, Law Enforcement and the Art Crime Underworld, come revelations that Graham Harkin, the prolific burglar serving nine years in jail these high value country house thefts, mentioned above, was threatened with an extra Ten years in jail and a benefit figure of £5 million attached in a confiscation hearing under the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act P.O.C.A.
With a metaphorical gun to his head Graham Harkin gave up Rutter, Webster and Eaton to save himself and now serves the rest of the four and a half years in jail, of his nine year jail sentence from the comfort of a D-Category Open Jail.
However, Police and prosecutors reneged on the deal agreed and Graham Harking lost his appeal against sentence a month after the art and antiques were recovered and the arrests made.
Mind you, Prosecutors did go easy on Graham Harkin at the Proceeds of Crime Act hearing and he was ordered to only pay back £10,000 or face four months more jail-time, as a result of his giving up the so-called Mr Big's and the recovery of the stolen art and antiques.