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
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific