“We tracked down the mover who stole our family fortune”

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He had seven prior convictions, including dishonesty offenses from 1980 and 1990, but had worked for Luker Bros since 2009, on more than 2,400 dismissals. Meanwhile he had become a ‘regular’ at Jones & Jacob, delivering £54,000 worth of goods over six years, with items in no less than half of their auctions. The ‘priceless’ possessions of his 11 victims sold for just £5,100 but were valued by an independent auctioneer at more than double – and by their owners at more. They included 11 designer handbags, sterling silver items and more than two dozen works of art. Victims speculate there are more, and much of the remaining £49,000 of consigned goods may also have been stolen.

Among the most important is a painting by French Impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette – teacher at LS Lowry – of Oxford Road in Manchester, once on loan to the city gallery and belonging to a 71-year-old retired teacher who moved in rural France in October 2019. pieces sold for up to £20,000. Bateman also siphoned off a painting by Royal Academy member Bernard Dunstan, lithographs, old maps and family stamp collections from him.

Another of his victims, Anna Fowler, had a pastel painting of a horse and carriage by post-Impressionist Paul Maze stolen from her, among other items. Maze’s work sells for up to £18,000. Anna is sold for £300. “Paul Maze taught my grandfather to paint. It had never been on the open market. When I noticed they were missing, my heart was in my mouth.

A comment from Bateman’s colleague stuck with her: “He said, ‘You have so many paintings you wouldn’t miss a few. At the time, I laughed awkwardly. There is a suspicion among the victims that at least one of Bateman’s colleagues was either an accomplice or a bystander to his crimes, frightened or unprepared to speak.

When Anna reported her missing items to Luker Bros, she was told they must be in the house. “There was an insistence,” says Anna. “I became full of self-doubt.”

Police later discovered a second Anna’s Labyrinth at auction – an oil painting of London Bridge hanging above the piano in her parents’ house: ‘I have the piano but there is a gap on my wall where the paint should go.”

In March 2020, she received a call from Thames Valley. “I was in my garden. They were investigating a series of thefts and there was one person they were building a case against. It gave me a renewed feeling that I could get my items back.

In December 2019, the same month the net was closing in on Bateman, Anna was asked by Luker Bros to file an insurance claim, having previously been denied. Like other victims, she has not yet accepted the offer, more eager to find her treasures. ‘Nothing they can offer will compensate me. For me, their value is invaluable,” says Anna. A proceeds of crime hearing is scheduled for September, but police have told the victims there is nothing more they can do to recover their property.

Jones & Jacob have made efforts to trace the buyers although no names have been released to the victims, citing data protection. Luker Bros has assigned attorneys to deal with the victims. “We feel really disappointed and frustrated,” says Anna.

Art lawyer and former Sotheby’s chief legal adviser Lisette Aguilar of Keystone Law said the case was ‘rare but not unknown’, adding: ‘The story should not be over. It is possible for victims to seek a court order, requiring auctioneers to disclose buyers’ contact details.

Auction houses are not officially regulated and sellers are not legally required to prove ownership; the absence of a written record makes it difficult to trace stolen goods. The legislation only requires questions to be asked of those shipping goods over £10,000. Bateman’s flights have fallen below this threshold, but due diligence is encouraged to avoid poor sales.

Aguilar says: “When there is a pattern of behavior like Bateman’s, alarm bells should ring.” I would be interested to know what questions, if any, they asked about where he got these items.

Alexander Herman, director of the Institute of Art and Law, adds: “There is a dark, dark world of stolen art, which is gradually becoming brighter. Many of these victims still legally own their property (the titles expire six years after the first bona fide sale after a theft), giving the police the opportunity to seize them if they resurface.

He advises victims to register their objects with the Art Loss Register, which scans auction catalogs for stolen works. They could file a more expensive civil suit against the new owners, if their identity is revealed. Victims are biding their time: they have sought informal legal advice, some are considering civil action, and a small group is considering pooling resources to hire lawyers, though the cost makes it insurmountable for some.

Three months before Anna’s flight, Barry Stride, 72, used Luker Bros to move into a rented three-story townhouse in France, where he had lived for 20 years, with his wife Monique and their now-teenage son . The couple worked for the UN in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1990s and acquired a collection of Turkmen rugs, over 100 years old.

Luker Bros had a word-of-mouth reputation within the UN community, and the couple paid £8,567 for Bateman and a colleague to arrive at 9am on a fine summer morning near the French border -Swiss.

“A conversation never left my head,” says Barry, who was widowed last year. “I told Bateman’s colleague that we could use them again when we leave the rental. He replied, “I don’t want to be there then.” Stride also thinks Bateman’s colleague must have known what he was doing – and chose to turn a blind eye.

They placed boxes in the garage and noticed their two biggest rugs were missing when they moved to a new house the following year; police alerted them to a third when their investigation identified them as victims. Each costs over £800; one sold at Jones & Jacob for £80.

Three weeks after moving from the Strides, Bateman was sent to a small cottage rented by Ffiona Perigrinor, 78, a psychoanalyst, who paid Luker Bros £2,800 to move her into a house two miles away. It was the fifth time she’d used the company – and another chance to catch Bateman who had never been on one of her moves before.

“I am an old hand at moving. I always pack valuables myself,” says the grandmother of five, who bought coffee and chocolates for the Bateman crew on moving day.

“I had a feeling of unease with Bateman. He was useless. When I tipped them £50, Bateman looked embarrassed, surprised.

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