The judge in a confiscation hearing is convinced 34-year-old Danny O’Loughlin knows where at least some of the stolen art and antiques are hidden.
On April 30, following a lengthy and detailed hearing at Reading Crown Court, Judge Christopher Critchlow said O’Loughlin – “probably the leader” of the Gloucestershire gang – had made £1,229,748 from the theft of £30m in art and antiques from properties including Ramsbury Manor in Wiltshire, Warneford Place in Swindon and The Manor, in Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire.
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act of 2003, O’Loughlin – currently serving the 11 year sentence he received in 2008 – was told he must hand over £113,200 within six months or face an additional 25 months in prison.
But, facing a £7m confiscation order, other Johnson family members, who had received sentences of between eight and 11 years for conspiracy to commit burglary two years ago, were thought to have pocketed much smaller sums.
The defence counsel successfully argued they were of limited means because they sold the stolen goods for a fraction of their value and spent the money on a “hand-to-mouth existence”.
The gang claimed, for example, that they made just £15,200 each from the raid at Ramsbury Manor, the home of property tycoon and connoisseur collector Harry Hyams and the site of the most valuable domestic burglary ever committed in the UK. An independent expert put the value of the 300-plus items taken from Ramsbury at £23m. The gang said they had accepted just £76,000 for the cache from a ‘fence’.
In total, the court decided Richard ‘Chad’ Johnson, 34, had made £135,768 from criminal activity during the period April 2005 and October 2006; Michael Nicholls, 30, had made £155,978 while Albi Johnson, 27, had made £25,602.
As it was deemed the men had no current assets, each received only nominal penalties of up to £178 although under the terms of the Proceeds of Crime Act, they are now liable for life to have any money they may come into seized by the authorities. They left the court saying the outcome was “better than a not guilty verdict” having given the judge a ‘thumbs up’.
The case of 55-year-old Ricky Johnson was dismissed as the judge was unconvinced the family patriarch had actively taken part in the burglaries.
Judge Critchlow conceded that Ramsbury treasures such as an early Tompion bracket clock c.1675 (for which a value of £240,000 was given) and a silver-mounted ebony barometer by Daniel Delander (£650,000) were now lost to the black market. But he found it “improbable” that the family did not have further antiques stashed away.
It emerged at the hearing that, in a bid to persuade the judge to be lenient, O’Loughlin had arranged for stolen items valued at £643,000 to be returned while he was behind bars.
O'Loughlin’s surrender of 93 pieces was thought to be the first time someone being pursued under the Proceeds of Crime Act has volunteered information from prison that has led to the recovery of stolen property. The court heard that some of the stolen antiques were recovered from the Cleeve Prior Travellers' Site, where all five members of the gang lived. Of the 93 items, 42 were from Ramsbury, Warneford Place and The Manor.
Simon Burns, prosecuting, told the judge there was an “inescapable inference” to be drawn that the family still had knowledge of the whereabouts of more booty.
The haul of some of the stolen Ramsbury items, found secreted in an underground bunker on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon some months after the raid in 2006, was valued here at £2.3m, approximately one tenth of the value of the total theft.