Burglaries at ancestral homes could be linked: Police join forces to investigate thefts. Mary Braid reports

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The Independent Online
A break-in at Luton Hoo, one of Britain's finest country houses, may be linked to a spate of burglaries at stately homes thoughout Britain, including Floors Castle and Sir Walter Scott's home in the Scottish borders.

Later this week Scottish detectives are to meet police officers from Bedfordshire investigating the theft of a priceless collection of Faberge eggs, ornaments and jewellery from Luton Hoo on Friday night.

Detective Sergeant Rob Wilkinson, of Galashiels, said that police jointly investigating the Floors Castle and Scott thefts were considering links with a number of other raids on stately homes, including the latest at Luton Hoo.

'There has been an unusually high number of raids on ancestral homes recently. The North-east has been particularly badly hit. We are investigating the possibility that a number of other break-ins are related to ours,' he said.

Detectives have described the raids on Abbotsford House, Sir Walter Scott's ancestral home, near Galashiels, on 20 April, and on Floors Castle, the Duke of Roxburghe's home - 14 miles away - last Thursday night as very 'professional'.

DS Wilkinson said the theft of Faberge jewellery and heirlooms worth a six-figure sum from Floors was particularly 'audacious'.

The robbers paddled 40 yards across the river Tweed in an inflatable dinghy and trekked half a mile in the dark through rolling parkland to the walls of the 18th-century castle, where Prince Andrew proposed to Sarah Ferguson. When they activated the alarm and woke the Duchess of Roxburghe, who was asleep upstairs, the raiders made their escape in the same manner. Among their haul was a collection of 30 18th-century snuff boxes acquired by the Duke of Roxburghe's grandmother.

'You have to hand it to them in the way they carried it out,' DS Wilkinson said. 'The estate is surrounded by a 20ft wall. There is only one entrance open at night and you would have to pass a number of cottages before you reached the castle. The river was the best way in.'

At Abbotsford House thieves stole Bonnie Prince Charlie's oak and silver whisky cup and snuff box, Mary Queen of Scots' seal and scores of other artefacts so rare no value can be placed upon them. The raiders forced the bars on a downstairs window to reach exhibition tables and cabinets in the library and Chinese drawing room upstairs.

The alarm appeared not to have been heard in the living quarters occupied by Patricia Maxwell-Scott, 73, the 19th- century writer's great, great, great grand-daughter. Police think the thieves visited Abbotsford as tourists to plan the operation.

Bedfordshire detectives are investigating why the alarm failed to activate when thieves broke into Luton Hoo between Friday night and Saturday morning. They entered the house, where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh spent the first night of their honeymoon, by breaking a window on the ground floor. The owner, Lucy Phillips, is believed to have been away.

(Photographs omitted)