Organised gangs blamed for thefts from stately homes
10:02am Tuesday 1st June 2010
TWO of North Yorkshire’s most famous stately homes have been listed among a string of historic properties at the centre of a crimewave.
The Art Newspaper has produced a rundown of how organised gangs are setting their sights on ancient houses across the UK, with some of the crooks using tiny burglars to squeeze through narrow openings and pilfer the valuable items inside.
Among those which have been hit by the criminals is the residence of Prime Minister David Cameron’s father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield, whose Sutton Park home was burgled in May last year when a £20,000 Meissen teapot in the form of a monkey was taken.
It was also the scene of an attempted burglary in the porcelain room last April, while Castle Howard is also among the roll of properties which have been raided.
The list reveals there have been at least 21 major thefts and 15 attempted robberies at stately homes across the country in the last three years, with Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire also being targeted. Dick Ellis, the former head of Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit, said three organised gangs, each with a distinctive style, were believed to be behind the thefts, with their tactics also including operating at night by using ladders and removing sections of glass from windows.
He also says the criminals sometimes take curtains and cushions to pack the items they steal and that some of the pieces are damaged during the thefts.
At the time of the Sutton Park break-in, Sir Reginald, the father of Mr Cameron’s wife Samantha, told The Press he was “devastated”, saying: “The Meissen monkey was an heirloom which has been in my family for a long time.”
He subsequently offered a £5,000 reward for information which could lead to the antique’s return, but was unavailable for comment yesterday about whether it had been found.
Mr Ellis said he believed many of the items stolen are sold at large antiques fairs within days of the theft and often passed to unsuspecting continental dealers.