If proof were needed that the names of Liam Hughes and Jason Parker are not destined for the ranks of the nation’s criminal masterminds, it came when the pair turned up at a scrap metal dealer brandishing a large and unusual bronze sundial.
Hours earlier the pair had cleaved the sculpture by Henry Moore, worth up to £500,000, from its plinth in the grounds of a Hertfordshire museum dedicated to the revered British artist. They left the dealer’s premises with £46 in their pockets.
Yesterday, Hughes, 22, and Parker, 19, from near Stansted in Essex, were each jailed for a year after they admitted two counts of theft last July from the Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham, a sculpture park set in the grounds of the sculptor’s former home.
St Albans Crown Court heard the pair had initially claimed they found the artwork in a ditch near a Tesco store, but later confessed to the crime. The sculpture was recovered after a television appeal, along with the plinth of another work taken by the men.
The 22-inch sundial was made by Moore in 1965 as a model for a larger sculpture, which was not cast. In his will, the artist, who died in 1986, stipulated that no copy could ever be made of the work, meaning the stolen sculpture is irreplaceable and priceless.
Sentencing Parker and Hughes, Judge Marie Catterson said: “This exercise required a little bit of thought, even if the planning was not especially sophisticated. In my judgment, these actions were utterly selfish thefts. You were selling these items for a pittance, for scrap, regardless of any damage or impact your actions might have on others. You did it because you considered it easy pickings.”
The items were recovered after the scrap dealer, who also paid nearly £200 for the plinth stolen by the men, came forward after an appeal on BBC 1’s Crimewatch. He told police he had had no idea of the true value of the sundial and had intended to give it to his mother as a present.
Despite their often monumental size, the works of Henry Moore have been a favoured target of scrap-metal thieves. The foundation was targeted seven years ago when a two-tonne sculpture, Reclining Figure, was taken by three men, who used a crane to lift the work on to a lorry. It is feared the £3m piece was then melted down for scrap value.
Last month, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets announced that the cash-strapped London borough will sell a work by the artist, partly because of the threat of theft. The work, Draped Seated Woman, was sold to the council at less than market value by Moore in the 1960s so it could be publicly displayed on a post-war housing estate.