AN 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 around the country.
Some of the stolen items were from homes including 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, 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 shortly aware carrying out a drugs raid at Webster’s home in Middleton in April 2011.
They searched the property and recovered a computer memory stick and SIM card which contained photographs of stolen antiques.
An operation was then mounted in which an undercover police officer approached Eaton, pretending that he wanted to store stolen cars. After gaining his trust the officer, known as ‘Jason’, began to talk about buying stolen antiques.
The officer was told by Eaton 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 arrested in September 2011.
The burglar responsible for targeting the stately homes, Graham Harkin, is currently serving nine years in prison
Jailing them, judge James Spencer said: “The stolen goods were extremely valuable antique items. The burglaries were committed in order to steal those items and were therefore targeted.
“He (Harkin) 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.”