Stolen art and antiques valued at tens of millions of pounds remain at large despite the incarceration of five members of the notorious Johnson family who bragged in a 2005 BBC documentary that they would gladly steal from “the lords, the sirs and the ladies”.
As widely reported last week, detectives believed the Johnsons,
based at a caravan park in Evesham, Worcestershire, were at the
centre of a crimewave affecting in the South of England for 20
They carried out a string of raids on stately homes in
Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Worcestershire between April
8, 2005 and October 13, 2006. They spent weeks staking out
properties and used 4x4 vehicles to ram heavily bolted gates.
Their plunders included what has been called Britain's
biggest-ever domestic burglary in February 2006, the £30m raid on
Ramsbury Manor, Wiltshire, the 17th century home of property tycoon
and discerning collector Harry Hyams.
The Johnsons also raided Warneford Place, the former home of
James Bond author Ian Fleming and now the home of Formula One
advertising tycoon Paddy McNally, and twice struck Woolley Park,
the Berkshire country home of Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire Sir
Three Johnson family members also stood trial for conspiracy to
burgle Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. In 2003 a
masked gang stole £5m worth of rare snuffboxes from the National
Trust property that have never been salvaged, but the case
collapsed after the judge ruled that certain evidence could not be
Detectives from five police forces took part in the
investigation codenamed Operation Haul. Two months after the
Ramsbury raid, detectives found items from the haul in black bin
bags in an underground bunker in a field owned by an associate of
the Johnsons near Stratford-upon-Avon.
The items - some of them damaged - amounted to one third of the
items taken at Ramsbury but represented only a small fraction of
the total value.
The men were convicted of conspiracy to commit burglary in
January, following a month-long trial at Reading Crown Court - but
the case can only be reported now because another case involving
one gang member, Daniel O'Loughlin, was pending.
Ricky Johnson, 54, was jailed for eight years, his sons Richard
'Chad' Johnson, 33, and Albi Johnson, 26, were jailed for 11 years
and nine years respectively, his nephew Daniel O'Loughlin, 32, and
his daughter's partner, Michael Nicholls, 29, were jailed for 11
years and ten years respectively.
Aside from the Ramsbury breakthrough, there have been few leads
in recovering the stolen objects. Passing sentence, Judge
Christopher Critchlow said: "Little of the property has been
recovered and is no doubt well hidden in the countryside or passed
on for disposal."
So far just three additional items have been found.
In February 2007 a West Country auctioneer notified the Art Loss
Register after becoming suspicious of a late entry of a Vulliamy
bracket clock. It emerged that the clock had come from Woolley
Park. This also led to the recovery of a mantel clock by Gibson of
Newbury. The consignor, who had connections to the Johnson family,
A 17th century portrait of Cardinal Infante Ferdinand by Abraham
van Diepenbeck, stolen from Ramsbury, was also found in May this