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

13 Jul 2021

Members of a family fraud which stole rare and valuable antiques from a Bedfordshire pensioner and then sold them at auction for around £1.7 million have been convicted. 

A comprehensive investigation by our Serious Fraud Investigation Unit proved to the jury that five people linked to the Pickersgill family were involved in the fraud, which saw dozens of valuable jade and ivory ornaments stolen over a period of six years.

Des Pickersgill, 83, did casual work for the victim, who is now in her 90s, at her home in a village just outside Bedford.

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 address in Wilstead 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 the prestigious Bonhams of London auctioneers – but in November 2013, November 2014 and June 2015.

One of these was an exceedingly 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.

Our 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 usand 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, from our Serious Fraud Investigation Unit, 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, for who I am delighted we have been able to secure some justice.

“We could not have done this without significant support from a number of different agencies, whose collective hard work and determination has ensured these fraudsters will face the consequences of their actions.

“Those behind schemes like this may think they are very clever, but this case demonstrates a clear message: we are smarter, and we will catch you.”

If you have concerns about fraud please report them to us via our online reporting centre or by calling 101.

You can also report information to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit their website.

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