Eleven men have gone on trial in connection with a multimillion-pound raid at a cider-making family’s sprawling home in Somerset.
Millions of pounds of artwork and antiques were stolen from the home of Esmond and Susie Bulmer, members of the Bulmers cider family, in Bruton, Somerset in 2009.
Bristol Crown Court heard a group of burglars with intimate knowledge of the property – known as the Pavilions – came in through a side entrance before stealing the paintings.
The jury heard the Bulmer family invested “a lot of money” in their home between 2008 and 2009 to make it bigger and more palatial.
Prosecuting, Stephen Mooney said: “They had a lot of builders on site.
“Not all of them decided that the location of the place they were working on was something they wanted to take advantage of by burgling it but at least two did.
“It is they who planted the seed for others to nurture and grow as to this being a very soft and lucrative target.”
Mr Mooney described the burglary as a sophisticated operation that needed a lot of people.
He said two of the builders working on the site, Matthew Evans and Liam Judge, were involved in the burglary.
“Judge and Evans descended on this property and took millions of pounds of antiques and paintings,” Mr Mooney told the jury.
Mr Mooney said the way the burglars entered the property required an “intimate knowledge” of it.
“That’s clearly something that the builders had acquired – Mr Judge and Mr Evans were two of those builders,” he said.
The jury heard the 11 defendants in the trial are not the only people involved, with others avoiding apprehension through “a combination of good fortunate or an ability to hide their actions”.
Mr Mooney said that, following the burglary, the paintings were taken to Birmingham and stored there due to their notoriety.
“There is a register of these very well-known pieces of artwork which would be triggered in the event of a sale to a lawful antiques business,” he told the jury.
“That was the problem faced by the burglars.”
He said other items stolen from the property, such as antique cutlery, had been sold.
The paintings were allegedly kept in the garage of Thomas Lynch, with Skinder Ali, Mark Regan, Donald Maliska, David Price and Ike Obiamwie also said to have been involved.
Mr Mooney said Maliska, Price, Obiamwie and another defendant named Jonathan Rees worked together to defraud Mr Bulmer and an insurance company.
The defendants claimed to the insurance company, Hiscox Insurance, that they had simply acquired knowledge of the paintings, the prosecutor said.
They allegedly persuaded the insurance company to increase a reward paid for the return of the paintings – with Hiscox parting with £175,000 to secure them.
Hiscox paid the money into an account for a company called Lois Jewellery, ran by Nigel Blackburn.
“He is unscrupulous,” Mr Mooney said. “It was those lack of scruples that made him so attractive to the people who had committed the fraud of Hiscox Insurance.
“The money was paid into the jewellery account and within a very short period of time, it was taken out and distributed among those who had been involved in the conspiracy to defraud the insurance company and also those were part of the burglary.”
Blackburn and an alleged associate, Azhar Mir, laundered the money, Mr Mooney told the jury.
Rees allegedly returned the stolen paintings to a secure location in Bermondsey, south London, and delivered them to loss adjusters and a police officer.
“He was very keen to mention that he happened to have the right information, in the right place, at the right time,” Mr Mooney said.
During police interviews, he was dishonest and his resulting statement was based almost entirely on lies, the court heard.
“He lied to protect himself and to protect those involved and he lied because he didn’t think he would be caught,” Mr Mooney told the jury.
Ali, 39, of no fixed address, Judge, 42, and Evans, 41, both of Tuffley, Gloucestershire, deny conspiracy to commit burglary.
Ali, Regan, 46, of no fixed address, Lynch, 43, of Small Heath, Birmingam, Maliska, 63, of Dartford, Price, 53, of Virginia Court, London, and Obiamwie, 55, of Ealing, London, deny conspiracy to handle stolen goods, namely 15 paintings.
Maliska, Price, Obiamwie and Rees, 62, of Weybridge, Surrey, deny conspiracy to defraud James Esmond Bulmer and Hiscox Insurance.
Blackburn, 60, of Hockley, Birmingham, and Mir, 65, of Solihull, deny entering into or becoming concerned in a money laundering arrangement.
Rees denies doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.
The trial continues.