The ringleaders of a fraud operation, including a father and son, who made around £1.7 million from stealing rare antiques from a Bedfordshire pensioner have been jailed for 16 years.
A comprehensive investigation by detectives from Bedfordshire Police’s Serious Fraud Investigation Unit proved that five people linked to the Pickersgill family were involved in the fraud, which saw dozens of valuable jade and ivory ornaments stolen over a period of six years.
Des Pickersgill, 83, did casual work for the victim, who is now in her 90s, at her home in a village just outside Bedford.
His son Gary Pickersgill, 42, and friend Kevin Wigmore, 47, played a leading role in listing the stolen items at a prestigious auctioneer.
The three men were jailed on Thursday (2 September 2021) for a combined 16 years.
Detective Inspector James Day, from Bedfordshire Police’s Serious Fraud Investigation Unit, said:
“The Pickersgill family targeted and exploited an elderly woman who trusted them within her home for years, in order to steal precious artefacts that were valuable not only in price, but in family sentiment.
“This investigation has shown that fraud is not a victimless crime. It’s a crime that can impact us all, no matter what age or background you come from. It is an intrusive violation of someone’s trust.
“It’s important for people to remember that it is not your fault and you should never feel ashamed if you have been affected by it.
“Today’s sentencing has shown that no matter how long ago a crime was committed, we will always take it seriously and investigate it in order to secure justice for you.”
The case began with an investigation into a burglary at the victim’s address in September 2017, where it was suspected oriental jade and ivory antiques had been stolen.
An antiques expert employed by the insurance company involved in the claim discovered three items captured in the family’s photograph album had actually been sold at the prestigious Bonhams of London auctioneers – but in November 2013, November 2014 and June 2015.
One of these was an exceedingly rare pale green Jade teapot, which had sold at Bonhams of Hong Kong for HK$5,920,000 – the equivalent of around £527,000 – and was the only item of its kind that had been sold in the preceding 20 years.
It was identified as being identical to the teapot stolen from the victim, due to a very slight, but distinctive, natural discolouration.
Two further extremely rare items of jade owned by the victim had also been sold; a cup and cover which sold for around £127,000, and a jade bird box which sold for £7,000.
Police enquiries with Bonhams established that two auction accounts had sold more than 40 items of antique oriental jade, ivory and bronze through their auctions from November 2011 to May 2017 – totalling approximately £1.7 million.
One of these belonged to Des Pickersgill, who lived less than 100 metres away from the victim, while the other belonged to his son Gary.
Some £1.56 million of these payments were paid into the account controlled by Gary. Financial investigations by both Bedfordshire Police and HMRC also established that a lot of this money had then been transferred to Gary’s wife, Sarah.
In July 2018, simultaneous search warrants at addresses in both Bedfordshire and Skegness recovered pendants and ornaments from both addresses, which were identified by family members of the victim as having been in their collection.
In interview, Des confirmed he had done gardening work for the victim, but claimed he had received small pots and ornaments as gifts on several occasions.
Enquiries into text messages on Gary’s phone then established that he had been discussing the auction of further lots with his friends Kevin and Tracey Wigmore.
Kevin was an old friend of Gary’s from Bedford and lived near his new home in Skegness. He had sold three items from the victim’s collection for more than £60,000.
Reading a statement in court, the elderly victim’s grandson said:
“The day I told her the outcome of the case, she shed a tear, she told me that she felt betrayed more than any time in her life.
“She had believed that the Pickersgills had been her friends and cared about her. She still cannot believe what has happened and her outlook on life has been blackened.
“She blames herself for this situation, not noticing what was going on in front of her own eyes, I have reassured her that none of this is her fault, none of us see bad in people we trust.”
During the trial the Pickersgills told the jury that Gary was gifted a large box of valuable items by the elderly victim before 2011. However, this was disproved after a number of family photos showed the same items within the home after it was claimed they had been handed over.
Gary and Kevin also attempted to claim that there was a loan between the pair which explained why Wigmore had the artefacts and had sold further items – but their story was full of inconsistencies and Judge Steven Evans said he “wholly” rejected their claims.
On Thursday (2/9/2021) at Luton Crown Court:
- Des Pickersgill, 83, of Clyde Crescent, Bedford, was sentenced to six years for theft, fraud and converting criminal property
- Gary Pickersgill, 42, of Saxby Avenue, Skegness, was sentenced to eight years for fraud, theft and two counts of converting criminal property
- Sarah Pickersgill, 40, of Saxby Avenue, Skegness, was given a two year community order and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work for converting criminal property
- Kevin Wigmore, 47, of Sapphire Close, Orby, was sentenced to two years for fraud and converting criminal property
- Tracey Wigmore, 49, of Sapphire Close, Orby, was given a community order of 200 hours unpaid work and a nine month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, for fraud and converting criminal property.
Upon sentencing, Judge Evans described the defendants as having “taken advantage of a vulnerable elderly lady” after being “driven by greed“.
He also commended the work of Bedfordshire Police Investigation Officer Dave Brecknock, recognising “this was a difficult case to investigate and took a great deal of work to get ready for court.”
If you have concerns about fraud please report them to Bedfordshire Police online or by calling 101.
You can also report information to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit actionfraud.police.uk.