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The department is assessing the arguments put forward by Arthur Hazlerigg, the heir to Noseley Hall in Leicestershire, who has appealed against Market Harborough Council’s decision to enforce the return of nine paintings sold in the major dispersal at the stately home at the end of last September.

The council objected to the sale of the paintings on the grounds that they formed parts of the fixtures of the Grade II listed building, and were included in the listing documentation.

Mr Hazlerigg argues that the paintings are fittings and as such should not be considered part of the essential fabric of the house – allowing him to dispose of them as sees fit.

It is thought that the ruling could rest on whether screws that attach the paintings to the walls make them a fixture or render them moveable “fittings”.

If the department finds in Mr Hazlerigg’s favour, it could free the owners of other stately homes to dispose of similar listed items.

It is not clear whether all such items would enjoy this new status, however.

The ban on the removal of The Four Seasons, a series of niche statues sold by Christie’s at the Hackwood dispersal in April 1998, was also introduced because of their listed status. But overturning the ban in their case could prove more difficult as the dining room in which they were displayed was designed specifically to house them, strengthening the argument for their status as fixtures.