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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Police arrest gang blamed for art and antiques thefts at stately homes

· Fourteen held in dawn raids by five forces
· Many items still missing in multimillion-pound thefts

Sandra Laville
Wednesday October 11, 2006
The Guardian

Detectives claimed yesterday to have smashed a gang of arts and antiques thieves responsible for looting tens of millions of pounds worth of property from stately homes in Britain. More than 100 police officers from five forces were involved in the raids and 14 people seized.

A trifle premature to think police have smashed this or any other Art and Antiques crime gang.
This is just another cynical headline grab by Police, lets see the next batch of high value art thefts coming soon!!!!!!!

For four years the audacious burglaries at some of Britain's best-known stately homes in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Worcestershire have embarrassed police and left leading insurers in the art world smarting from multimillion-pound payouts for antiques, curios and paintings from leading collections.

Victims such as Lord Rothschild have called in private detectives to find their stolen property, with little success.

The truth is that Lord Rothschold has been offered his gold boxes etc back by those of us investigating stolen art, Thames Valley Police agreed to allow the Rothschild collection to surface, however, Scotland Yard stepped in and forbid any recoveries of stolen art, effectively slapping down Thames Valley Police as the "Country Yokels"

But senior officers claimed yesterday that their operation had ended the activities of the gang, which they said was responsible for at least 10 raids on stately homes, including the theft of £30m of antiques from Ramsbury Manor near Marlborough, in what is believed to be Britain's biggest domestic burglary.

Wishful thinking on behalf of Police,This is just another demonstration of the failed "Hitting corks in a barrel" approach, so, now comes the backlash, there will be a spate of further high value art thefts to show the art crime gangs are still operating with impunity and there will be occasions whereby highly important works of art are damaged, acid thrown over canvases etc, just to show that the Police can never win, perverse as this may seem.

The Guardian has learned that yesterday's raids came after a man whom detectives claim is the "godfather" of organised art and antique crime in the south-west, pleaded guilty at Oxford crown court on Monday to conspiracy to steal from cash machines. Alan "Jimmy" Johnson, the leader of an Irish-born travelling family from Gloucestershire, has been pursued for several years by police investigating the art and antiques thefts.

Johnson, who is in Leicester prison awaiting sentence for the cash machine conspiracy, admits he has targeted country homes for antiques but vigorously denies any part in the spate of stately home raids and has claimed he is being made a scapegoat.

To be fair to Alan "Jimmy" Johnson, he has been talking to Ex Art Detective Charlie Hill, who has been passing information to Police. Jimmy Johnson and David Dudon have been spilling the beans to Charlie Hill about art thefts and stealing bronze sculptures. Charlie Hill has been stifled in making any kind of art recoveries so he has been trying to set up those with access to high value stolen art, this strategy is fraught with danger and we now see Jimmy Johnson being "Hung out to dry" by Charlie Hill and law enforcement.

To dump all of this on Jimmy Johnson is a travesty,######, aka, as ##### from Southern England has been giving information to Police about the art crime gangs, which include Irish Gypsy criminals from Limerick, Dublin etc.

########, holds a Gypsy/Traveller event each year in the grounds of his manor, where Gypsies and travellers from all over Britain and Ireland gather, it is at these events ###### gets most inside information to pass to Police.

While ########, enjoys the fruits of dealing in stolen artworks, because of the pass given to him by his Mason Police friends, others within the travelling community are hounded and arrested, as we see with the raids carried out in the Thanmes Valley.

To all travelling, Irish, and British Gypsies, Dundon/McCarthy, Johnson, Sheehy, Kent clans, Newark boys etc


Two years ago Jimmy Johnson offered his services to Lord Rothschild to help him find millions of pounds worth of miniature gold boxes and works of art lost in a smash and grab raid at Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, Bucks, in 2003. No property was recovered, because Scotland Yard blocked any return of the Rothschild collection, it is still out there waiting to be recovered if authorities would take their heads out of the sand and employ the services of those of us able to recover these and other stolen art collections.

Thames Valley police said the dawn raids in an operation codenamed Haul involved "a show of strength", although officers were not armed.

Police are questioning the gang, thought to number more than 21, over conspiracy to commit 23 offences including burglaries from stately homes and country houses, shops, hotels and a string of thefts from cash machines.

Detective Superintendent Mark Warwick, the senior investigating officer, said: "The crimes being investigated include some of the highest profile and highest value burglaries this country has ever seen. I think we have totally nullified the effects of the gang and disrupted their network." Police believe the thieves visited the stately homes - which were open to the public - to carry out reconnaissance missions in advance of the raids. Targets are still being evaluated by criminals and the vulnerable ones will be robbed, dispite the boasts of Mark Warwick, ask Mark Warwick why the Rothschild collection has not been recovered?

Several of the burglaries, including the raid on Lord Rothschild's home, Waddesdon Manor, involved the use of 4x4 vehicles, with a metal stake attached to the roof to ram heavily bolted gates and doors.

In last February's attack on Ramsbury Manor, the 17th century home of Harry Hyams, a reclusive property tycoon and art collector who built Centre Point in London, the burglars broke in through a downstairs window at about 10.40pm and seized items worth about £30m. The property houses a world-famous collection of fine art, including that of Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt. Harry Hyams was told that the art crime gang were planning a return to his house for a second haul of artworks, Mr Hyams, alarmed by this is living in fear.

The Hyams raid was because of good inside information provided to the art crime gang, Harry Hyams has the light swtiches in his house placed in unusual places, the thieves knew this and together with other inside knowledge enabled the raid to be successful. Police were offered intelligence about Harry Hyams and other targets, but refused to pay for the intelligence, thus Mr Hyams was robbed, as will others on the "List"

Despite the arrests, detectives said yesterday they were not confident of recovering substantial amounts of the art and antiques stolen. Because police will not allow anyone to recover those works of art in a way that see's reward monies paid to art loss investigators, some of which are former Police Officers.

They claim to have found a third of the property involved, including 140 items worth £12m from Ramsbury Manor which were discovered this year in an underground cellar on waste ground near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Police did not discover these items, they were led to them as a demonstration of goodwill by Art Loss investigators who convinced the criminals to hand back the less saleable artworks stolen from Harry Hyams. Unfortunetly Police did not keep their word and authorise payment to the law abiding art loss investigators, another demonstation of Law enforcement acting in a disengenious manner.
So, the "Mexican stand off" is back inplace.

Experts said the artefacts have probably been sold on in India, Russia and China.
Some and some, all the artworks are available and if Police take their heads out of the sand they could be party to a series of recoveries that end with a "Sting in the tail"

Sarah Jackson, of the Art Loss register, Britain's biggest database of stolen art, said: "A lot of this property will be passed around between criminal gangs and not surface in the antiques trade at all.

"It may be swapped for stolen cars or a stash of cocaine. It becomes another form of currency."

She said sales catalogues of major art and antiques houses were checked against the register and her team worked with police to recover items. But many of the collections involved in Operation Haul appear to have disappeared. Fabia Bromovsky, spokeswoman for Lord Rothschild, said: "We have found no trace of the property that was stolen. We have absolutely no idea where it has gone." Fabia, Fabia, come on tell the truth, you and Lord Rothschild know where the artworks are and who has control of them, it is Police who have told you not to privetly recover them.

Anne Gascoigne, owner of a 14th century manor house in Stanton Harcourt, Witney, Oxfordshire, which has been raided twice in three years, said apart from a couple of items, there was no trace of any of her priceless collection of 18th century silver soup tureens, ice buckets and vegetable dishes, given to her family by George III.

Yes there is, a dealer from Brighton Sussex has got the main silver pieces, it can be revcovered, arrests can be made, but Police will not allow this to happen and monies to be paid to the private sector.

Robert Hiscox, of Hiscox insurers, which has paid out to several clients as a result of the multimillion pound raids, said yesterday: "If police have caught them, that is good news."
Robert Hiscox, said this with his tounge firmly in his cheek.

Related articles
03.02.2006: Mansion art haul may be Britain's biggest
02.02.2006: £20m art theft riddle solved in court
02.02.2006: Stealing beauty
28.01.2006: Artful dodgers
Missing masterpieces: a virtual gallery, by Jonathan Jones

Special reports
Art theft

Useful links
The world's most wanted art
Art Loss Register
Object ID: international standard for describing art
Metropolitan police
Swift-find: online registry of valuables
Carabinieri: searchable database of looted art (in Italian)

14 arrested over £80m raids on stately homes

By Nick Britten and Richard Savill Telegraph
(Filed: 11/10/2006)

Police investigating a series of multi-million pound raids at some of Britain's grandest stately homes believe they have broken a major crime network after arresting 14 people yesterday.

Hole in Black Hill and stolen goods
Stolen antiques were found in a hole at an old nursery in Black Hill, including property, above, from Ramsbury Manor

An operation involving five forces rounded up some "extremely violent" criminals alleged to have been involved in a 17-month spree of thefts from at least five stately homes, as well as a string of business premises, hotels, shops and cash machines. Remember "Official Warning" article below!!!

One of the homes targeted by the gang was Ramsbury Manor in Wiltshire, home of the property tycoon Harry Hyams. In February, thieves stole art valued at £30 million in what is believed to be Britain's biggest domestic robbery.

Because the value of art and antiques theft is extremely difficult to assess, detectives believe that the worth of goods taken during the crime spree could be approaching £80 million.

More than 100 officers swooped yesterday on three addresses in Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. One of the targets was a caravan site in Evesham, Worcs, and some of those arrested are believed to be from a well-known gipsy family.

Last night they were being questioned about 23 raids and police said that with the gang numbering more than 21, further arrests were expected.

The properties included Woolley Park House in Berkshire, Stanton Harcourt Manor, Oxfordshire, Rendcombe Manor, Gloucestershire, and Ombersley Court in Worcester, some of which are open to the public. So far, only goods worth £10 million have been recovered and detectives believe most of the art and antiques were stolen to order.

The arrests were part of Operation Haul. Established in October 2005 in response to a rise in the number of violent, high-value burglaries, it brought together the police forces of Thames Valley, West Mercia, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

Police making an arrest
West Mercia police making an arrest at Cleeve Prior

Seven people were arrested during the early morning raids in Cleeve Prior, Evesham, six were arrested in Gloucestershire and one in Oxfordshire.

Francis Habgood, the assistant chief constable of Thames Valley police, said: "The crime being investigated by Operation Haul include some of the highest profile and highest value burglaries this country has seen.

These arrests should demonstrate that where criminality does not recognise police force boundaries, neither do we – we will work together very closely to ensure that suspects are identified and brought to justice."

Police described the thieves as "extremely violent". Det Supt Mark Warwick, of Thames Valley police, said that a "great deal" of the stolen property had been sold on. Around a third of the haul had been recovered and he hoped that inquiries over the next few days could lead to more being seized.

Mr Warwick added: "This was a criminal gang that needed to be dismantled and we needed to make sure they were disabled in terms of their activity. I think we have totally nullified the effects of the gang and disrupted their network."

Police have recovered around half of the antiques stolen from Ramsbury Manor but the whereabouts of many of the goods from the other homes remain a mystery. Detectives urged antiques dealers to keep a watchful eye out for anything suspicious.

The first stately home to be burgled, in October 2005, was Obersley Court, the ancestral home of the Sandys family. It was, according to legend, chosen by the Nazis for use as a headquarters from which they would have mounted an attack on Birmingham following an invasion.

A month later, on Nov 16, thieves targeted Stanton Harcourt manor in Witney, Oxon. The manor, which is open to the public from March to September, was built between 1380 and 1470, and its Pope's Tower was lent to the celebrated poet Alexander Pope between 1717 and 1718 as he worked on his translation of the Iliad.

The Harcourts are the only surviving family of the Norman Conquest in Oxfordshire.

Within a week thieves hit Rendcomb Manor, near Cirencester, which houses a music college.

After targeting Ramsbury manor last Feb 1, they waited until April 25 before stealing from Woolley Park House in Chaddleworth, a private residence owned by the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire.

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