NEW data released about thefts from large country houses highlights the targeting of valuable porcelain by criminal gangs over the last three years.

The data, commissioned by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group and compiled by the former head of Scotland Yard art and antiques unit Dick Ellis, lists 21 major thefts and 15 attempted robberies since 2007 where important pieces of porcelain have been taken from both private estates and publicly-run historic houses across the country.

The Ecclesiastical Insurance Group are the insurers dealing with one of the most serious cases: the £1m raid at Firle Place, the Sussex home of Lord Gage, in July last year, when many pieces of valuable porcelain were lost.

The thieves are believed to have used a ladder and glass cutters to gain entry to the house, before breaking into two display cabinets.

The items taken included a rare Sèvres Pompadour marbled ground vase from c.1761 and a Meissen statue, The Indiscreet Harlequin, from c.1743.

A similar theft took place at another country house in East Sussex only four nights later.

Other thefts over the last few years include those at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, Cusworth Hall in South Yorkshire, and at the National Trust properties of Grantham House in Lincolnshire and Lanhydrock in Cornwall.

In each case, most of the items have yet to be recovered.

Mr Ellis is reported to have identified three gangs which had possibly carried out the thefts. He said that he believed that the items may have been passed on by the gangs within a few days of the thefts either at antiques fairs, via eBay or by being taken abroad.

This “instant disposal” varies from the more traditional criminal tactic of handing the stolen items to a ‘fence’ to be held for some time before being slowly passed back onto the market.