Raiders stole millions of pounds worth of antiques and paintings from a cider-making family’s West Country mansion, a jury has been told.
Artwork, silverware and jewellery were among the items stolen in the March 2009 burglary on the Somerset home of Esmond Bulmer, 82, a a former MP and member of the Bulmers cider dynasty, and his wife, Susie, 76.
Bristol crown court heard that three of the 11 men accused of involvement actually carried out the raid, tying a house-sitter to a bannister.
Others were allegedly involved in storing the paintings, which included precious pre-Raphaelite works, and an alleged insurance scam. The 11 deny the allegations against them.
Opening the case, Stephen Mooney, prosecuting, said: “This was a sophisticated operation only uncovered by detailed police examination.
“Although there are 11 defendants in dock, the prosecution does not for one minute suggest that these were the only individuals involved. We acknowledge there were clearly others who have managed to avoid being apprehended.”
The jury was shown a graphic in which each defendant was assigned a colour, which the prosecution said was “a bit Reservoir Dogs”.
All of the paintings stolen during the burglary have since been recovered except one - Sir John Lavery’s After Glow Taplow. Among those found was Endymion by the 19th century painter George Frederic Watts.
The three raiders allegedly pounced as the housesitter, Deborah Branjum, opened a door to let out the family dog, Echo. The Bulmers were away at the time, and extensive work was being carried out on their Bruton home. Two of the builders, Matthew Evans and Liam Judge, and a third mandescended on this property and took millions of pounds of antiques and paintings,” Mooney said.
Branjum “saw three shadowy figures standing in the doorway, as if waiting for this very moment,” he said. “One man stepped forward, placed his hand over her mouth and physically carried her into the house, and said: ‘If you keep quiet I won’t hurt you. Down on the bed, down on the bed’.
“She presented no threat, a woman alone in a house, but nevertheless her hands were secured with plastic ties brought to the house for that express purpose.
“The men placed a blanket over her head and asked if there was jewellery or money in the house. They then spent the next 45 minutes moving through the house, selecting items to take.”
The burglars, however, were left in what Mooney referred to as an “asset-rich, cash-poor” situation.
In February 2015, during a police review of the original investigation, an advert was placed in the Antiques Trade Gazette offering a £50,000 reward for the safe recovery of the antiques.
Mooney said: “It was designed to tempt those who had any information about the whereabouts of the paintings and antiques to divulge it. But having seen this, they immediately knew they had information they could use as leverage and apply pressure.”
The court heard that, in order to raise the amount that was going to be paid as reward, one of the defendants, Jonathan Rees suggested to Hiscox Insurance company that one of the paintings was about to be sold to a Russian oligarch.
Hiscox paid £175,000 in response to an offer from Rees that his associates would hand over all the other stolen artwork, the jury heard.
Skinder Ali, 39, of no fixed address, Judge, 42, and Evans, 41, both of Tuffley, Gloucestershire, deny conspiracy to commit burglary.
Ali, Mark Regan, 46, of no fixed address; Thomas Lynch, 43, of Small Heath, Birmingham; Donald Maliska, 63, of Dartford, Kent; David Price, 53, and Ike Obiamwie, 55, both of London, deny conspiracy to handle stolen goods.
Maliska, Price, Obiamwie and Jonathan Rees, 62, of Weybridge, Surrey, deny conspiracy to defraud.
Nigel Blackburn, 60, of Hockley, Birmingham, and Azhar Mir, 65, of Solihull, deny entering into or becoming concerned in a money-laundering arrangement. Rees denies doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.
The trial continues.
Copyright © 2018 theguardian.com. All rights reserved., source Guardian Online