Petworth House
The National Trust's Petworth House and Park in West Sussex has hosted The Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair for the past four years. Image: Clare Trenchard Wolves at Petworth from HR Flying Colours Gallery.

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The Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair at Petworth House in West Sussex was targeted at around 3.30am on Sunday, May 12.

According to a statement issued by Sussex Police, thieves used a sports utility vehicle (SUV) and the pick-up truck towing a trailer to smash through the gates at an entrance off the A283 London Road (not the main fair entrance) to the 700-acre Petworth Park estate.

They then drove across the estate to the marquee where the fair, hosting around 50 exhibitors, was taking place in the National Trust property. 

The “masked suspects... stole a safe containing high-value jewellery and cash” that dealers and organisers used to store valuables overnight, Sussex Police said.

They are appealing for witnesses to “suspicious activity” by people in Petworth Park during the early hours of Sunday morning and to be alert to offers of jewellery “in suspicious circumstances”.

The dealers whose property was stolen have not been named.

Quickly alerted

Ingrid Nilson, director of Petworth fair organiser The Antiques Dealers Fair Limited (ADFL), was staying nearby and was quickly alerted to the raid by the event’s security firm. She was on site by 4am.

“We had a raid in the early hours of Sunday and the burglars got away with a safe, which is what they came for,” Nilson told ATG. “It was quick and well organised, obviously by professional criminals. Sussex police were there within minutes of the perpetrators leaving,” adding that “my sympathies go to the exhibitors affected”.

The fair’s final day went ahead as planned on Sunday, May 12, opening at 10.30am, with exhibitors praising “the incredibly professional way” the fair organisers and police handled the theft.

“It was dealt with in the most incredibly professional way by Ingrid, the police and the fair’s security team,” said Emma Duveen of Duveen Art & Antiques. “Ingrid was on the spot as soon as it happened and so were the police. Exhibitors felt incredibly supported by Ingrid and her team throughout the day.”

Nilson in turn praised the fair’s exhibitors for their “fortitude” after the theft. “All the exhibitors were brilliant,” she said.

Exhibitors reported that the fair, in its fifth edition this year, was otherwise successful with strong sales across the three days.

Suspicious activity

Det Sgt Ali Hutchings, from Chichester investigations, said: “We'd like to hear from anyone who saw any suspicious activity or a group of people in or around Petworth Park. 

“We would also like to hear from anyone who is offered jewellery in suspicious circumstances, or who may have relevant closed-circuit television or dash-cam footage from the Petworth area.”

Police said the thieves carried the safe onto the trailer “before both vehicles returned to the A283 and made off in a southerly direction towards Petworth itself”. 

Sussex police believe the SUV involved sustained extensive front and rear-end damage during the raid.

Police ask anyone with information to contact Sussex Police online or by phoning 101, quoting Operation Snowman. 

Alternatively, they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously online or by phoning 0800 555 111.