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Ishvar Patel, aged 33, made reconnaissance trips from his London home to pinpoint country houses in Rutland and Nottinghamshire with gardens containing high-value ornaments.

Leicester Crown Court heard how he would later return with a van, moving equipment and accomplices to raid the gardens in the dead of night. John Snell, prosecuting, said that on two occasions owners had noticed that garden ornaments had been slightly moved before they disappeared a few days later.

Patel admitted the theft of three French stone busts, made in 1750, and worth £30,000, from Flintham Hall, Nottinghamshire; the theft of two stone eagles worth £1500 from a farm near Oakham and the attempted theft of staddle stones from another nearby farm.

The accused asked for three other offences to be considered, including the theft of two staddle stones worth £600, four stone balls and a further seven staddle stones valued at £2100. All the offences took place last July and August.

The court heard that an antiques dealer from Fulham had paid Patel £3900 for the French busts after buying them in good faith. The dealer contacted the police after seeing an advertisement from the owner in the Gazette, publicising the theft and appealing for help.

Patel, of Douglas Avenue, Wembley, was arrested while hiding in bushes during the attempted theft of property from a farm in the village of Eaglethorpe, Oakham, after the farmer was awoken by noise and alerted the police.

Judge Ian Collis told Patel: “These were all substantial thefts in what was a well-organised racket. It involved advance planning and arranging of transport for stones and statues, and requiring some sort of engineering skill to get them out of the gardens. You have shown very little remorse.”