9 years for €1.4m stately homes thefts

A 58-year-old Donegalman was jailed for nine years in England last week after the robbery of antiques, valued at 1.4 million euro, from a number of stately homes.

A 58-year-old Donegalman was jailed for nine years in England last week after the robbery of antiques, valued at 1.4 million euro, from a number of stately homes.

Geoff Harkin, formerly from the Letterkenny area, was only apprehended after a police sting, a court heard.

Harkin used a membership card for the National Trust of Britain to “case” the historic homes by joining guided tours before returning at night to burgle them. He was accused in court of “looting history for profit”.

He had emigrated to England a number of years ago and ended up living near Manchester. He was known by his middle name, Geoff, instead of his first name, Graham.

The court was told that he burgled Firle Place, the stately home in Sussex of the Irish peer, Viscount Gage of Castleisland, County Kerry. Among the items he took on that occasion was a collection of Sevres porcelain which was valued at 1.2 million euro.

Antiques worth 31,000 euro were taken from another historic house and he also carted off a clock valued at 230,000 euro from a house owned by the Bagot family in the Lake District.

Harkin offloaded some of the valuable items to unsuspecting buyers at car boot sales but after growing tired of selling the antiques for a small fraction of their price, he decided to contact the Bagots and told them he would return the clock for an advertised 25,000 euro award and another 5,750 euro for himself if they agreed not to inform the police.

But upon arriving at a motorway service station near Manchester for the handover, he was immediately surrounded by police. Detectives subsequently uncovered the clock in a box in Harkin’s car.

Prosecutors told the court he had sold some of the items for as little as 8,850 euro at one particular car boot sale.

The spree lasted a year before the Donegalman was caught. He was sentenced to nine years in prison by an English court.