“We were chasing the mover who stole our family fortune”

He had seven prior convictions, including dishonesty offenses in 1980 and 1990, but has worked for Luker Bros. on over 2,400 moves since 2009. By now he had become a ‘regular’ at Jones & Jacob and delivered £54,000 worth of goods over a period of six years, with items appearing in no fewer than half of their auctions. The “priceless” belongings of his 11 victims sold for just £5,100 but were valued at more than double that by an independent auctioneer – and more by their owners. These included 11 designer handbags, solid silver items and more than two dozen works of art. There are suspicions among the victims that there are more of them out there and much of the remaining £49,000 worth of goods shipped may also have been stolen.

Among the most notable was a painting by French Impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette – teacher of LS Lowry – of Manchester’s Oxford Road, once on loan to the city’s gallery, and belonging to a 71-year-old retired professor who moved to rural France in October 2019 pulled. Valette’s pieces have sold for up to £20,000. Bateman has also stolen a painting by Royal Academy member Bernard Dunstan, lithographs, antique maps and collections of family stamps from him.

Another of his victims, Anna Fowler, had a pastel painting of a horse and carriage by post-impressionist artist Paul Maze stolen, among other things. Maze’s work is selling for up to £18,000. Anna was sold for £300. “Paul Maze taught my grandfather to paint. That had never been on the open market. When I realized 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.’ I laughed awkwardly at the time.’ There are suspicions among the victims that at least one of Bateman’s colleagues was either an accomplice or a spectator of his crimes, afraid or unprepared to speak out.

When Anna Luker Bros reported her missing items, she was told they must be at the house. “There was a persistence,” says Anna. ‘I became full of self-doubt.’

Police later discovered a second maze by Anna at auction – an oil painting of London Bridge that hung above the piano at her parents’ house: “I have the piano, but there’s a place on my wall where the painting goes.”

In March 2020 she received a call from the Thames Valley. “I was in my garden. They were investigating a number of thefts and there was one person they were prosecuting. It brought a new feeling that I could get my things back.’

In December 2019, the same month the network approached Bateman, Anna had been invited by Luker Bros to make an insurance claim after being previously denied. Like other victims, she has yet to accept the offer as she is desperate to be reunited with her treasures. “Nothing they can offer will compensate me. Their value is priceless to me,” says Anna. A crime proceeds hearing is scheduled for September, but police have told victims there is nothing more they can do to get their belongings back.

Jones & Jacob have been trying to locate buyers, although no names of victims have been released, citing privacy concerns. Luker Bros hired lawyers to deal with the victims. “We feel really let down and frustrated,” says Anna.

Arts attorney and former Sotheby’s chief counsel Lisette Aguilar of Keystone Law says the case is “rare but not unusual,” adding, “The story shouldn’t end there. It is possible that the victims will apply for a court order demanding that the auctioneers disclose the details of the buyers.’

Auction houses are not officially regulated and sellers are not required by law to prove ownership; The lack of paper trails makes tracing stolen goods difficult. The legislation only requires those sending goods over £10,000 to be interviewed. Bateman’s thefts fell below this threshold, however, due diligence is advised to prevent mis-selling.

Aguilar says, “If there is a pattern of behavior like Bateman’s, alarm bells should be ringing. I’d be interested to know what questions, if any, they asked about where he got these items from.’

Alexander Herman, director of the Institute of Arts and Law, adds: “There is a dark and grim world of stolen art that is becoming increasingly illuminated. Many of these victims still own their legal items (title deeds expire six years after the initial good faith sale following a theft), giving police an opportunity to seize them if they reappear.

He advises victims to register their items with the Art Loss Register, which searches auction catalogs for stolen works. They could bring a costly civil suit against new owners if their identities are revealed. Victims are biding their time: They have sought informal legal counsel, some are considering civil suits, and a small group are attempting to pool resources to hire lawyers, though the cost makes it prohibitive for some.

Three months before Anna’s theft, 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 carpets that are over 100 years old.

Luker Bros had a solid reputation in the UN community and the couple paid £8,567 for Bateman and a colleague to arrive near the Franco-Swiss border at 9am on a bright summer morning.

“One conversation I could never get out of my head,” says Barry, who was widowed last year. “I’ve told Bateman’s colleagues that we can use them again when we leave the rental. He replied: “Then I don’t want to be there.” Stride also believes that Bateman’s colleague must have known what he was up to – and that he decided to turn a blind eye.

They put boxes in the garage and found their two largest rugs were missing when they moved to a new home the following year. Police alerted them to a third when their investigations identified them as victims. Each cost over £800; one was sold at Jones & Jacob for £80.

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

“I’m an old hand at moving. I always pack valuable things myself,” says the grandmother of five, who bought coffee and chocolate for Bateman’s crew on the day of the move.

“I got a bad feeling from Bateman. He wasn’t helpful. When I tipped them £50, Bateman looked embarrassed and stunned.”

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