Gallery paintings ‘stolen to order’ for collector

Peter Howson with one of his famous paintings, which was not taken
Peter Howson with one of his famous paintings, which was not taken
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PAINTINGS seized during a heist at an Edinburgh art gallery are believed have been stolen to order for a private collector, the Evening News can reveal.

Works by the acclaimed Scots artist Peter Howson were seized during a late night raid on the Art Mart in May.

Police chased two men seen running from the scene with some of the paintings and apprehended them, recovering the remainder from a white van nearby.

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday, George Mountford, 27, pleaded guilty to breaking into the London Road store on May 5 this year and stealing the paintings, worth £16,000.

His co-accused, Gary McKenzie, 28, a prisoner in Saughton, admitted reset of one painting.

Today art dealer Douglas Fyfe, proprietor of the store, said it was believed that the paintings had been stolen to order rather than being an opportunistic crime.

He said: “They were organised and the paintings were by Peter Howson, the well-known Scottish painter, so I think they were done to order.

“One painting was hidden behind some of the others and couldn’t have been seen from outside, so I think someone had been in before to check out the place.”

Mr Fyfe, who has operated his art business on London Road for 13 years, said it was extremely rare for paintings to be stolen in such a manner in Scotland.

He added: “I was phoned at 2am by the police and when I went down there were police cars there and they had already been caught.

“I have been there 13 years and its the first time anything like this has happened. It’s very rare, I haven’t heard of anything like this at all in Edinburgh or Scotland even.”

Yesterday, at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, fiscal depute Michelle Young told Sheriff Michael O’Grady QC, that Mr Fyfe had secured the building after 6pm on May 4, locking the front door and securing metal gates with two padlocks.

At 2.43am the following morning, a member of the public phoned police to say the front door of the premises was wide open and Mr Fyfe was contacted.

Officers searched the surrounding area and two men were seen in Alva Place carrying paintings. Police followed and found two paintings discarded on the road. Mountford had turned into Rossie Place, where he was arrested.

McKenzie had gone into Easter Road where officers in a police car found him standing outside a Scotmid store “sweating and out of breath”.

Ms Young said a white van, belonging to Mountford, was found in Rossie Place, in which four paintings were found. Also in the van were various items, including gloves, a crow bar, pliers, hammer and bolt cutters.

Ms Young said none of the paintings had been damaged. The glass on one had been broken and two had broken frames. She added that the damage to the premises had cost £135 to repair.

Sheriff O’Grady deferred sentence on both men while reports on their background were carried out.