A MAN who stole antiques worth more than £1.2m from country houses across the country has been jailed for nine years.
Geoffrey Harkin, 58, of Wakefield, North Yorkshire pleaded
guilty to the theft of an important collection of Sèvres porcelain
at Firle Place near Lewes in July 2009, 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.
The Tompion, for which a reward of £20,000 was later advertised,
was the item which would lead to his arrest.
Carlisle Crown Court heard that, although Harkins did not
actually commit the Levens burglary himself, he had 'cased the
joint' four days previously after joining a lunchtime tour of the
house. A bronze and ivory figure of Napoleon on horseback by E.B.
Masson was also stolen in the burglary.
Six months later, he contacted Levens Hall's owner Hal Bagot
claiming he could recover the clock for £25,000 and arranged a 'no
questions asked' exchange at Birch Services on the M62 near
Expecting to meet Mr Bagot, instead he was met by undercover
officer DC Steve User of Cumbria Police who found the 17th century
table clock in the boot of his BMW and confiscated both a mobile
phone and a National Trust membership card - "an essential bit of
kit for a country house burglar" said the prosecution.
Data from the phone placed Harkin at the location of the
burglaries at the time they were committed while CCTV found footage
of him on guided tours of the targeted houses in the weeks before
On March 25, Judge Peter Hughes told Harkin: "You selected your
targets by posing as a member of the public. You were, to put it
colloquially, casing the joint. You were either stealing to order
or you had a good knowledge of what was valuable and worth
He gave Harkin concurrent sentences of nine years for the Firle
Place burglary, seven years for the Longnor Hall burglary and five
years for handling the Tompion clock. In the light of the
prosecution, two other charges - burgling a National Trust property
in Cornwall and stealing a £50,000 sundial from Dalemain House,
near Penrith - were left lying on the court file. The court was
told he had 18 previous convictions, mainly for theft.
Harkin is understood to have passed on some of the items to an
associate, 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.
With the exception of the clock, none of the items stolen have