Family guilty of fraud after making £1.7m from Bedford pensioner's stolen antiques

They sold items at Bonhams of London

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 5:53 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 5:56 pm

Members of a family stole rare and valuable antiques from a Bedford pensioner and then sold them at auction for £1.7 million.

An investigation by Bedfordshire Police's serious fraud investigation unit proved to the Luton Crown Court jury that five people linked to the Pickersgill family were involved in the fraud, where dozens of valuable jade and ivory ornaments stolen over a six-year period.

Des Pickersgill, 83, did casual work for the victim, who is now in her 90s, at her home in Wilstead.

Members of one family stole items and sold them at Bonhams of London
Members of one family stole items and sold them at Bonhams of London

Meanwhile his son Gary Pickersgill, 42, and his wife Sarah Pickersgill, 40, went from the brink of eviction from their home in Bedford to buying a luxury home with a swimming pool, paddocks and one-and-a-half acres of grounds in Spalding, Lincolnshire for around £410,000 in March 2014, all without a mortgage and with seemingly no income to pay for it.

It all began with an investigation into a burglary at the victim’s home in September 2017, where it was suspected oriental jade and ivory antiques had been stolen.

An antiques expert employed by the insurance company involved in the claim discovered three items captured in the family’s photograph album had actually been sold at Bonhams of London auctioneers – but in November 2013, November 2014 and June 2015.

One of these was an very rare pale green Jade teapot, which had sold at Bonhams of Hong Kong for HK$5,920,000 – the equivalent of around £527,000.

This was the only teapot of this type that had been sold in the preceding 20 years. It was identified as being identical to the tea pot stolen from the victim, due to a very slight natural discolouration or flaw to the upper rim below the lid.

Two further extremely rare items of jade owned by the victim had also been sold: a cup and cover which sold for around £127,000, and a jade bird box which sold for £7,000.

Police enquiries with Bonhams established that two auction accounts had sold more than 40 items of antique oriental jade, ivory and bronze through their auctions from November 2011 to May 2017 – totalling some £1.7 million.

One of these belonged to Des Pickersgill, who lived less than 100 metres away from the victim, while the other belonged to his son Gary Pickersgill.

Some £1.56 million of these payments were paid into the account controlled by Gary. Financial investigations by both Bedfordshire Police and HMRC also established that a lot of this money had then been transferred to Gary’s wife, Sarah.

Between all three of them they had a taxable income over this time period of around £13,000, with Des having been drawing on his state pension since the first sale at Bonhams.

In July 2018, simultaneous search warrants at addresses in both Wilstead and Skegness recovered pendants and ornaments from both addresses, which were identified by family members of the victim as having been in their collection.

In interview, Des confirmed he had done gardening work for the victim, but claimed he had received small pots and ornaments as gifts on several occasions. Gary gave a prepared statement and answered no comment to all questions.

Enquiries into text messages on Gary’s phone then established that he had been discussing the auction of further lots with Kevin and Tracey Wigmore, who lived near his home in Skegness.

Kevin had set up an account at Bonhams and sold three items for more than £60,000. Family members of the victim again identified these items as coming from their jade collection, while a receipt recovered from the Wigmore’s address related to the sale of these items to them by Gary Pickersgill.

Yesterday (Monday) at Luton Crown Court:

Des Pickersgill, 83, of Clyde Crescent, Bedford, was found guilty of theft, fraud and converting criminal property.

Gary Pickersgill, 42, of Saxby Avenue, Skegness, was found guilty of theft, fraud and two counts of converting criminal property.

Sarah Pickersgill, 40, of Saxby Avenue, Skegness, was found guilty of converting criminal property.

Kevin Wigmore, 47, of Sapphire Close, Orby, was found guilty of fraud and converting criminal property.

Tracey Wigmore, 49, of Sapphire Close, Orby, was found guilty of fraud and converting criminal property.

All five are due to be sentenced at a future court date in August.

Investigation officer Dave Brecknock said: “I have no doubt that Des and Gary Pickersgill hatched a plan to prey on an elderly and vulnerable victim, steal these precious artefacts and make themselves a small fortune.

“This was a pre-meditated, sly and dastardly criminal conspiracy which has caused untold worry to the victim and her family."