Archers' naked shepherd stolen 'for scrap metal'

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The Independent Online

The First World War poet Rupert Brooke would have been horrified. His poem, "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", written in 1912, was a loving homage to his Cambridgeshire home, which he thought epitomised idyllic, rural England.

But now the area eulogised by Brooke for its "peace and Holy quiet" has been hit by a crime wave, with the Old Vicarage itself - home of disgraced author and Conservative peer Jeffrey Archer - the scene of the latest outbreak.

Two life-size sculptures, worth several thousand pounds each, were stolen on Tuesday evening from the garden of the Old Vicarage in the latest in a series of metal thefts in the region. Police believe the scrap is being stolen and shipped to the Far East for recasting.

One of the two pieces, created by Christopher Marvell, is of a naked shepherd with four sheep. The second is of a girl doing a handstand. They could be seen from the road that passes the property, home to the millionaire novelist and his wife, Mary, since the 1980s.

Lady Archer, 62, said CCTV cameras had captured the thieves at work. It took them two hours to saw through the bases of the sculptures before loading them on to a vehicle. She was in the house, but had gone to bed.

She said: "It was quite frightening for me because I was at the house at the time. I feel angry as any householder would be and sad because they were distinguished works of art and if they are sold as scrap metal and destroyed it would be an absolute crime and act of vandalism."

Lady Archer would not reveal precisely how much the sculptures were worth, only saying they were "both of considerable value". The couple are offering an undisclosed reward for the return of the sculptures.

A spokeswoman for Cambridgeshire police said the theft was the latest in a series in the area. "We have had a lot of scrap metal thefts. Lead, copper piping and so on. We suspect it is being reused in China and the Far East."

Detective Sergeant Dean Wiffin, who is leading the inquiry, added: "The sculptures were sawn off their base before being taken from the garden. These sculptures would have needed a large vehicle to move them and I would like to hear from anyone who remembers seeing a van in the area."

According to the biography of Lady Archer by Margaret Crick, Lord Archer bought the shepherd piece because he thought it would make a perfect addition to the grounds of their home. But when Lady Archer saw it she was said to have exclaimed: "The penis is too big!" The sculptor was asked to reduce the size of the offending organ.

Lord Archer, a former Conservative Party vice-chairman, was jailed for four years for perjury and perverting the course of justice at the Old Bailey in 2001 over his libel action against the Daily Star in 1987. He was freed on parole after serving two years.

The Old Vicarage was built around 1685, passing into private hands in 1820. From about 1910 onwards, Brooke rented a room and then a larger part of the house. He wrote the poem, "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", in Berlin in 1912, as a lament for his much-missed English village home. After the poet's death in 1915, the house was bought by his mother.