Jailed: the family that stole £30m of property from stately homes

For two decades, they have been the scourge of the aristocracy, launching audacious raids on some of the country's most prestigious stately homes.

Now, after notching up a series of record-breaking thefts, featuring in their own TV documentary and earning the dubious honour of being the sole subjects of a dedicated police operation, five members of the notorious Johnson clan are serving jail terms of up to 11 years each.

The gang struck rich homes across Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Worcestershire between April 2005 and October 2006 – including Britain's biggest-ever burglary, taking property worth £80m from the Wiltshire home of the property tycoon Harry Hyams.

Their robberies included raids on the country retreat of the Formula One advertising mogul Paddy McNally, and the home of the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, Sir Philip Wroughton.

Police recovered antiques, art, porcelain and jewellery worth £30m, stolen by the Johnsons.

Ricky Johnson, 54, was sentenced to eight years for his role in the theft of millions of pounds of antiques, cars, and precious metals. His sons Richard "Chad" Johnson, 33, and Albi, 25, were given sentences of 11 and nine years respectively. His nephew Daniel O'Loughlin, 32, was jailed for 11 years. Michael Nicholls, 29, partner of a Johnson family member, was given 10-year sentence.

All five were sentenced at Reading Crown Court in January, but their raids can only now be reported following the end of other cases against the clan.

Paul Reid, for the prosecution, described the gang as ruthless and highly organised. Their preparation was meticulous: they sometimes surveyed a property for weeks before a robbery. Antiques worth £26,000 were taken from a home in Marlborough, Wiltshire, while the occupants watched television.

The gang became so prolific that four of the country's police forces – Gloucestershire, Thames Valley, Warwickshire and West Mercia – set up "Operation Haul" at the end of 2005 to catch them.

But they did not prevent the biggest heist, in February 2006 at Mr Hyams' Ramsbury Manor, near Marlborough. The gang made off with antiques worth tens of millions – Britain's biggest-ever domestic burglary.

The tide began to turn during a botched robbery of Stanton Harcourt Manor in Witney, Oxfordshire. After being disturbed, Albi Johnson leapt from a first-floor window, breaking both legs. He told police he had fallen from his brother's roof. The Johnsons were held in October 2006 after a study of mobile phone records, CCTV and speed camera footage.

The Johnson family's infamy earned them their own BBC documentary, Country Strife: Summer with the Johnsons made in 2005. It featured Ricky and Chad Johnson, both now in prison, and Jimmy Johnson, the head of the family, known as "King of the Gypsies". In the film, they talk about hare-coursing and fighting, and their contempt for the law. Chad was shown urging his children to fight and said he would "only rob your house if I feel the need".

Judge Christopher Critchlow, sentencing, described the raids as "one of the most serious examples of conspiracy to burgle ever to come before the court". He added: "Little of the property has been recovered and is no doubt well hidden."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas