Gang's plan to 'pop' a Picasso

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The Independent Online
A CRIMINAL gang believed security at Christie's was so lax an insider could "pop" a Picasso into a crate and walk out with it, a court heard yesterday.

An undercover policeman said he was told the pounds 300,000 Tete de Mousquetaire would be replaced with a fake so the theft would not be discovered straight away. The officer, testifying against the former cat burglar Peter Scott, 67, told London's Snaresbrook Crown Court that in the end a plan to get hold of the painting came to nothing after it was decided it would be "too risky".

But not long afterwards he was told a more valuable Picasso, Tete de Femme, was available. The court has heard it was stolen during a raid in March last year at Lefevre Gallery, Mayfair. A deal was struck but during a "sale" at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, police swooped and arrested Mr Scott as he allegedly walked away with pounds 70,000 "proceeds" in a carrier bag. He denies conspiring to handle stolen goods. When arrested, he insisted he was an "innocent go-between": a man he refused to identify had given him a suitcase, revealed it contained a painting, and ordered him to give it to Ronald Spring. He denied opening or looking in the case and denied taking hold of the bag of money.

But Mr Spring, 69, a former legal executive turned property dealer, who was the officer's unsuspecting contact during the undercover operation and has admitted his part in the conspiracy, has said Mr Scott was a main player in the operation.

The officer, known only as Patrick, told how he posed as a crooked dealer. "It was said that movement of paintings was done by Group 4 security but for members of staff it would just be possible to pop it into a crate and walk out with it." The case continues.