When Detective Constable Steve Crilley received a call from a member of the public claiming a painting stolen from him had now been put up for auction he knew he was on to something.
What he can’t have imagined is that his inquiries would lead him to uncover a haul of rare prints, including several by John Lennon.
It has now emerged that the prints were part of a valuable collection acquired by the crooked art dealer Jonathan Poole, who was jailed last week for the theft of dozens of paintings from his celebrity clients.
Poole was sentenced to four years after admitting 26 counts of theft and fraud by selling his clients’ works of art and pocketing the proceeds.
But the story of his crooked activities – likened in court to the art heist film The Thomas Crowne Affair – took an unexpected twist even before the case came to trial.
It began when the owner of a work of art they had left in the care of Poole some years earlier, spotted it advertised for sale at an auction house without their permission.
During his investigation DC Crilley, of Gloucestershire police, discovered that Poole had passed on not only their work of art, but dozens of prints and paintings belonging to other people to one of his contacts, who had since died in an apparent attempt to put them on the market.
These had ended up in the hands of an art dealer in Cumbria, who had in turn arranged for the sale of some of the pieces at auction.
The discovery revealed several pieces by Lennon, who had been a student at Liverpool College of Art before he joined the Beatles and who had continued to draw throughout the height of their fame and his solo career that followed the band’s breakup in 1970.
DC Crilley, of the Major Crime Investigation Team, said: “A member of the public called us to say that they had left some artwork with Jonathan Poole and that when they were looking on a website they saw that the item had been sold at an auction house.
“I followed this call up and traced the person who had put the art work into the auction and then went and recovered the art from his home address in Cumbria.
“These pieces at some point were in Poole’s possession while he had his galleries, but they did not form part of his conviction. I believe they were moved on by a man who knew Poole, who has since died, and therefore the art dealer in Cumbria purchased them in good faith.”
The 32 Lennon prints, worth between £800 and £1,000 each, included a print titled A Bird Dreaming, a sketch of a woman at a table, called Coffee Morning, and a self portrait of himself in his Manhattan apartment.
The collection also included a self-portrait print by the Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, worth £2,000, and piece by the acclaimed German artist Sebastian Krüger called Son House, worth an estimated £4,000
Now the hunt is on to the artworks’ rightful owners.
DC Crilley said the works of art had been sold on without their knowledge or consent.
“We now want to reunite people with their artwork and if they own the pieces they will have a certificate of authenticity so we can confirm they are the rightful owner,” he said.
Gloucestershire police added: “”These pieces of artwork, many of which are works by John Lennon, were not part of the case which led to Poole’s conviction and sentence.
“We won’t be taking any further action against the art dealer in Cumbria as we believe these items were purchased in good faith and a criminal offence has not been committed.”
Poole, 69, of Poulton, Cirencester, Glos, ran the respected Compton Cassey art gallery on Lord Vestey’s Stowell Park estate near Northleach.
He was jailed for four years after he admitted 24 offences of theft of artworks and two of fraud against John Illsley, bass player with Dire Straits.
The court heard that he abused the trust of Illsey and other wealthy clients by saying he would sell works of art for them, only to then pocket the proceeds, and sometimes even selling them without their knowledge.
Several of the stolen paintings depicted celebrities such as Kate Moss, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen.