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Monday, September 26, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Firle Place, Newby Hall & Sutton Park Hot Art Recovered



Police recover £5m in stolen antiques in sleepy Yorkshire village

Two men arrested after items believed to have been taken in raids on stately homes discovered in caravan and garage

Detectives have found more than £5m worth of antiques stolen from stately homes in a tatty caravan and neighbouring lock-up garage in a quiet Yorkshire village.

Two men have been arrested for questioning over the haul which is thought to be part of a long-term and sophisticated targeting of mansions over the last five years.

Items recovered from Tankersley, near Sheffield, included treasures taken in two thefts which attracted international publicity in 2009. A Chippendale table was taken from Newby Hall near Ripon, for which it had been specially made, and porcelain worth £1.3m was stolen in a daring raid on Firle Place in Sussex.

A member of the National Trust, 58-year-old Graham Harkin from Wakefield, was jailed for nine years in March for the Firle theft. Detectives said after the case that he had refused to co-operate over the whereabouts of the stolen goods, but by then a major investigation was under way.

All three Yorkshire forces and the regional organised crime unit worked with specialised roads crime officers to track suspected gang members to where the goods might be stashed. Inquiries led them to a nondescript store in Tankersley, a village probably best known for the crumbling fortified farm that featured in Ken Loach's 1969 film Kes.

Officers who broke into the lock-up and caravan found the George III rosewood table from Newby, a house which influenced the plot of the TV drama Downton Abbey. Antiques experts at the time of the theft described the piece by the UK's best-known furniture-maker as having "worldwide importance".

Stored beside the Chippendale table was the Firle haul: a pair of Louis XVI ormolu and Sèvres bleu vases with an insurance value of £950,000; a Meissen statue from the 1740s titled The Indiscreet Harlequin, and a Sèvres Hollandois Nouveau vase from 1761, valued at £180,000 each.

Nine other items were recovered, including an embellished bracket clock made by Daniel Delander of London around 1710 which was stolen from Sion Hill Hall in Northallerton, north Yorkshire, shortly before the two other thefts.

Police raided addresses in Tankersley and the Leeds suburb of Middleton. They are currently questioning a 68-year-old man from the former and a 44-year-old man from the latter. The inquiry includes possible links to the illegal drugs trade.

Detective superintendent Steve Waite, head of regional intelligence for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: "We are so pleased and proud to have recovered these high-value antiques which have been described as true pieces of British heritage. We will now begin the formal process of identification and will eventually be in a position to reunite the pieces with their owners.

"A couple of items had suffered minor damage during the ordeal, but this demonstrates that those involved in the thefts were not in it for their love of antiques. In fact, recent trends indicate these types of high-value items are being used by organised crime groups as currency or collateral in relation to serious criminality, often involving drugs."

Other items which form part of the operation's continuing search include porcelain from 21 country house thefts since 2007. They include a Meissen teapot and bronze bust worth a total of £40,000 stolen in 2009 from Sutton Park near York, the home of the David Cameron's in-laws, Sir Reginald and Lady Sheffield. There have been 15 similar attempted but failed robberies that showed extensive knowledge of mansions and their security systems.

Police Press Release:

Police have recovered fourteen items of significant cultural and historic value worth at total of £5 million following a regional operation that took place on Thursday 22nd September 2011.

The items, which were recovered from “lock-ups” at two residential premises in South and West Yorkshire, are believed to be those previously reported as stolen from Newby Hall and Sion Hill in North Yorkshire and Firle Place in Sussex.

Of significant value is one Chippendale table, thought to have been made especially for Newby Hall in Ripon in 1775 but was stolen from the stately home in June 2009. The George III rosewood table is described as having worldwide importance.

Also recovered was a pair of Louis XVI ormolu and Sevres bleu vases, with an insurance value of £950,000. These were taken from Firle Place in July 2009 along with a Meissen statue, The Indiscreet Harlequin (circa 1743) and a rare Sèvres Hollandois Nouveau vase of 1761; valued at £180,000 each. Both pieces are amongst those recovered from the Firle Place break-in, which, together with the vases, places the total value of the Firle Place porcelain collection somewhere in the region of £1.3 million.

Another of the recovered antiques is an embellished bracket clock made by Daniel Delander of London in around 1710. It is believed to be the same clock that was reported as stolen from Sion Hill Hall in Northallerton in February 2009.

The Yorkshire and Humber Regional Intelligence and Special Operations Units received the initial intelligence which was then worked up further following a lengthy period of surveillance until it was possible to then identify a number of suspects connected to the thefts and whereabouts of the items.

The resulting raid on two residential premises took place throughout the day on Thursday 22nd September 2011 and into the early hours of Friday 23rd. It marked the culmination of a year-long investigation carried out by the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit who received significant support from West Yorkshire Police and officers from the Regional Roads Crime Team, North Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Police.

Over 30 officers worked tirelessly on the operation throughout and have since made two arrests: the first, a 68 year old male from Tankersley, South Yorkshire; the second, a 44 year old male from Middleton, Leeds, West Yorkshire. Both men are being questioned while the recovered items continue to be formerly identified by experts.

Speaking of the case, Det Supt Steve Waite, Head of Regional Intelligence said: “This is an absolutely fantastic case and a great result for both the officers involved and the stately homes that have been affected by these thefts. We are so pleased and proud to have recovered these high value antiques which have been described as true pieces of British heritage.

“We will now begin the formal process of identification and will eventually be in a position to reunite the pieces with their owners. For now, they will remain under lock and key in a controlled environment so as to preserve them.

“Only a couple of items have suffered minor damage in the ordeal but this just goes to show that those involved in the thefts were not in it for their love of antiques. In fact, recent trends indicate that these types of high-value items are actually being used by organised crime groups as currency or collateral in relation to serious criminality, often involving drugs.”

Art Hostage Comments:

On September 16th 2011 Graham Harkin, the man convicted of several Country house raids, Firle Place being the most noteable, appeared at Carlyle Crown Court for a Confiscation hearing under the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act. Harkin faced a bill of several milion pounds or up to Ten years extra jail-time added to the Nine year jail sentence he recieved in March this year, 2011, when convicted of several country house raids, Firle Place included.

Then, less than a week later, six days in fact, Police raid these two places and recover the items listed and put out the Press Release they had been working towards this for a year.

Perhaps Harkin offered up these stolen art and antiques to excuse himself further jailtime and a softer pillow to rest his head upon whilst serving his time in jail, at an Open Jail, Cat D.

Upon another note, what has happened to the alleged two men arrested ? If this recovery was on the 22nd September then they were either charged or bailed to a later date, which is not mentioned either way. Could this all be a smoke-screen for the Harkin hand back, time will no doubt tell.

Art Hostage has said time and time again this kind of high value, high profile stolen art causes everyone concerned "Headaches" and is refered to as "Headache Art"

Perhaps now thieves will understand stealing high value, high profile art and antiques from Historic Houses, Museums and Public Buildings is less attractive than often potrayed in the media.

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