Des Pickersgill, 82, (right) and his son Gary Pickershill, 42, outside Luton Crown Court
A gardener and his son allegedly stole Chinese antiques from a 96-year-old widow and auctioned them at Bonhams Auction House in London for more than £1.5million before buying £410,000 house with a swimming pool, a court has heard.
Des Pickersgill, 82, who had worked as a gardener for the elderly woman and her late partner, was a friend and neighbour and would visit her Bedfordshire home regularly with a bottle of wine for the pair to share, it is claimed.
But unbeknownst to the widow, Mr Pickersgill was allegedly secretly stealing items from her Jade and ivory collections of ornaments and artefacts she had build up over the years and which filled her home in unlocked display cabinets, Luton Crown Court heard.
Mr Pickersgill, from Bedford, and his son Gary Pickersgill, 42, from Skegness in Lincolnshire, are alleged to have opened accounts with Bonhams Auction House in London to sell pieces of jade and ivory from the pensioner’s collection, making out they had the authority to do so.
The woman had suffered a stroke and was becoming increasingly frail and forgetful and was looked after round the clock by carers.
Her home was filled with paintings – including a Picasso – books and heirlooms.
But unbeknownst to the widow, Mr Pickersgill was allegedly secretly stealing items from her Jade and ivory collections of ornaments and artefacts she had build up over the years and which filled her home in unlocked display cabinets, Luton Crown Court heard
Over the years between November 2011 and May of 2017 dozens of jade and ivory antiques, along with porcelain ornaments and other valuable pieces, are alleged to have been taken from the house in the village near Bedford.
One item that was allegedly sold by Garry Pickersgill was an apple green jade bowl, which sold for £1million.
Meanwhile, a pale green jade teapot sold for around five million Hong Kong dollars in 2015, which prosecutor Ian Hope said was worth around £500,000.
As a result, the prosecution allege Gary Pickersgill and his wife Sarah went from being on the verge of eviction from their rented home in Bedford, to purchasing a luxury home with a swimming pool, paddocks and one-and-a-half acres of grounds in Spalding, Linconshire for just over £410,000 in March 2014, mortgage free.
The couple then sold the property in September 2017 before buying a hotel in Skegness and spending £100,000 on renovations, said Mr Hope.
A pale green jade teapot sold for around five million Hong Kong dollars in 2015, which prosecutor Ian Hope said was worth around £500,000
Gary Pickershill’s wife Sarah Pickershill
Mr Hope told the court when he opened the case to the jury: ‘This case concerns the theft and fraud behind the sale of high value jade and ivory antiques taken from the home of an elderly widow.
‘The crown say her collection was systematically raided by Des Pickersgill and his son Gary.’
Des Pickersgill had claimed that the widow had given his son Gary an ornament in the shape of a dish as a gift for fixing her TV set.
He claimed she had told Gary: ‘That will pay you for what you have done today, because I have got no cash.’
Meanwhile, Gary Pickersgill claimed the widow had given him a box containing pieces of what he thought were marble and pieces of ivory as payment for some work he had done for her prior to 2011 and which he had put in his loft.
Former Detective constable Dave Brecknock, the investigating officer into the thefts, told the trial today that Gary Pickershill claimed that years later after watching a Tv programme he had realised what the woman had given him was jade and and as a result he had contacted Bonhams Auction House.
The thefts are alleged to have come to light following a burglary at the woman’s home on the night of September 20 2017
Thieves, who have never been caught, broke in through a stable door.
The widow who was then in her early 90s, was in bed and her carers had popped out. In the raid, items of jade and ivory were taken from the display cabinets.
Bedfordshire Police began an investigation and so too did her insurance company, who appointed fine arts and antiques valuer Mary Griffith-Thompson to see what had been taken and what it was worth.
Ms Griffith-Thompson decided to go to the archives auction houses, Sotherby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams to find similar pieces so that she could work out current replacement values.
Working from photos of the widow’s cherished items she made an startling discovery when she discovered an 18th or 19th century jade antique teapot thought to have been stolen in the raid, had been sold two years earlier in June 2015 through Bonhams for more than half a million pounds.
A white jade ram-head washer was sold for 550,000 Hong Kong dollars at Bonhams
Giving evidence, Ms Griffith-Thompson told the jury that she had noticed a tiny flaw in the jade teapot.
‘There was a flaw in the jade that matched a flaw that was visible on the teapot in the cabinet,’ she said. ‘Because Jade is a natural substance, the chances of it occurring in the same place was remote.’
Mr Hope explained: ‘Because it was the same teapot, she had stumbled on something of a mystery because she was investigating a burglary in 2017 and she discovered the teapot had been sold years before the burglary took place in 2017.’
Mr Hope said Ms Griffith-Thompson also noticed there were few provenance details in the archive concerning the teapot which just said it was from an ‘English Private Collection.’
Ms Griffith-Thompson explained that for a such ‘an important, rare and valuable’ piece she would have expected there to be much more detail about it concerning the collection it had come from and if it had ever been in a museum.
More information about the piece would have increased its value, she said.
As a result of her discovery, said Mr Hope, the expert compared other photos taken of Mrs Marx’s jade and ivory collection with photos from Bonhams archive of pieces they had sold over the years.
A green and russet jade peach-form brush washer from the Qing Dynasty was sold at Bonhams for £4,200 by Kevin Wigmore and his wife on behalf of Gary Pickersgill
Kevin Wigmore (pictured) allegedly helped Gary Pickershill to open an account at Bonhams
She concluded that some of the missing items pictured in the display cabinets at the widow’s home had been sold at auction by Bonhams in the years before the 2017 burglary.
They included a spittoon sold in November 2014 for £158,000 and a vase and cover sold before the burglary for £20,000.
The jury was told that items sold included jade and ivory figures, animals, mythical creatures, oriental antiques, bowls, vases, carvings, a spittoon worth six figures, a jade teapot that went for five million Hong Kong dollars and the apple green jade bowl for a million pounds.
Mr Hope said the expert passed her findings on to Bedfordshire Police and enquiries established the items had been sold through accounts with Bonhams opened in the names of Des Pickersgill and his son, Gary.
Mr Hope said it wasn’t the prosecution’s case that any of the defendants were responsible for the 2017 burglary, but he said it had revealed that someone had been taking antiques for years which had been sold in the name of Des Pickersgill and his son.
The jury was told that in 2018 Gary Pickersgill enlisted the help of friends Kevin Wigmore and his wife Tracey from Lincolnshire to open an account at Bonhams and, through it, three items of jade were sold at auction for a total of more than £63,000.
In June of that year police questioned Des Pickersgill. He told detectives he had known her for around 30 years and had worked for her and her late partner as a gardener.
A white and russet jade carving of a horse and monkey was sold at Bonhams for £14,000
Gary Pickersgill enlisted the help of friends Kevin Wigmore and his wife Tracey (pictured) from Lincolnshire to open an account at Bonhams
Describing her as ‘very generous’ he claimed she sometimes gave him items from her collection which he had later had valued and sold.
He said his own father had built up a collection of Jade and his son Gary had sold a lot of it at Bonhams.
Gary Pickersgill was also questioned by officers and said he had carried out odd jobs for the widow over the years and he told how she had once given him a box of items from her home as a gift.
Later he said, thinking they might be valuable, he had sold them.
His wife Sarah Pickersgill is said to have told police she knew nothing about the sale of antiques.
Speaking about going from nearly being evicted from their rented home to buying a luxury home, she said she didn’t know where the money had come from and had never questioned him about their ‘financial turnaround.’
The court was told the victim and her first husband, who died in 1976, had built up the collection of Chinese Jade and Ivory antiques.
Her farmer grandson told the court she had suffered a stroke in 2011 and her health had then declined.
He said while she had been in hospital recovering, he had photographed much of her collection of Jade and Ivory because ‘of the way the world is and crime, and the house being empty.’
The court heard that following the burglary in 2017 all valuable property has been removed from the house and was now kept in secure storage.
At Luton Crown Court Des Pickersgill, 82, now of Clyde Crescent, Bedford, and Gary Pickersgill, 42, of Saxby Avenue, Skegness, plead not guilty to the theft of jade and ivory artefacts from the home of the old lady between November 2011 and May of 2018.
The pair, along with Kevin Wigmore, 47, and his wife Tracey Wigmore, 49, of Sapphire Close, Orby near Skegness, plead not guilty to fraud after it’s alleged they made representations to Bonhams Auction House between November 2011 and May 2019 that they had authority to sell the jade and ivory items on behalf of the woman
Des Pickersgill, Gary Pickersgill and Sarah Pickersgill, 40, also from Saxby Avenue, Skegness, plead not guilty to converting criminal property by selling the items to the auction house.
Gary Pickersgill, Kevin Wigmore and Tracey Wigmore plead not guilty to converting criminal property by selling jade and ivory antiques to Bonhams.
Source: Daily Mail UK