FOURTEEN antiques of ‘significant, cultural and historic value’ have been recovered and two men arrested in connection with three high-profile country house thefts in 2009.
Items with a headline valuation of £5m recovered from premises in South and West Yorkshire included those from two break-ins which attracted international attention two years ago – those on Newby Hall near Ripon and Firle Place in Sussex.
More than 30 officers from three Yorkshire police forces worked on the case for over a year. 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 that led them to a run-down caravan and neighbouring lock-up garage in the quiet Yorkshire village of Tankersley.
The culmination of an investigation carried out with support from West Yorkshire Police and officers from the Regional Roads Crime Team, North Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Police was the raid on two residential premises on Thursday, September 22.
Two arrests were made. Police are questioning a 68-year-old man from Tankersley and a 44-year-old man from the Leeds suburb of Middleton. Police suspect links to the illegal drugs trade.
The haul included a George III rosewood Pembroke table supplied to Newby Hall by Thomas Chippendale in 1775 but stolen in June 2009. Stored beside it was the porcelain stolen in a daring raid on Firle Place, near Lewes in Sussex in July 2009: a pair of Louis XVI ormolu and Sèvres bleu vases with an insurance value of £950,000; the c.1740 Meissen group The Indiscreet Harlequin and a Sèvres Hollandois Nouveau vase from 1761, valued at £180,000 each.
In March this year Geoffrey Harkin, 58, from Wakefield, a career thief who used his membership of the National Trust to 'case' the properties he stole from, was jailed for nine years for a series of country house thefts including that at Firle, a £27,000 raid on Longnor Hall in Shropshire and the attempted sale of a £200,000 table clock by Thomas Tompion stolen from Levens Hall, near Kendal in Cumbria, in September 2009.
Harkin is understood to have passed on some of the items to Gary Swindell, 58, of Bradford, who was given a three-year sentence for handling stolen goods – some of which were sold at a car boot fair in York – but he refused to co-operate over the whereabouts of any of the stolen goods. However, by then a wider investigation was underway.
Nine other items were recovered in Tankersley, including a Daniel Delander bracket clock c.1710, stolen from Sion Hill Hall in Northallerton in February 2009.
Detective Superintendent Steve Waite, head of regional intelligence for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: "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."
Items recovered represent a fraction of the antiques stolen in 21 country house thefts across England since 2007.