Masterpieces return home after fraudster jailed

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The Independent Online

The 19th-century Scottish artist David Roberts had been largely forgotten until the art lover Helen Guiterman re-established his reputation with 30 years of painstaking research.

Having acquired a major holding of his works - six oil paintings and 51 drawings and watercolours - she then wanted to find a suitable home for them after her death.

As long ago as 1990, discussions on the subject began with the National Art Collections Fund charity (the Art Fund), which has helped other aspiring philanthropists in such cases. The National Gallery of Scotland was identified as the perfect eventual recipient. But when Ms Guiterman died in 1998, aged 82, the gift, now believed to be worth more than £300,000, failed to materialise.

It was a mystery that nine times out of ten would have remained unsolved. But after years of close contact with Ms Guiterman, no one could quite believe she had reneged on her promise. It turned out that she had not. The Art Fund made discreet inquiries of Shaun Gray, a relative claiming to be her executor, who said she had changed her mind. Dissatisfied with his responses, the Art Fund took legal advice. Dorset Police and HM Revenue and Customs were eventually called in.

Gray, 39, of Dorset, was jailed for three years after admitting fraud at Bournemouth Crown Court yesterday in the first inheritance tax prosecution in England brought by the newly established Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office.

Now, seven years after her collection should have gone to complement the existing collection of Roberts' work in Scotland, Ms Guiterman's wishes will be finally executed exactly as she first expressed them.

The Art Fund had kept an eye on the situation from the moment Helen Guiterman made her wishes known. A Slade art school graduate who worked as a designer for local authorities, she became interested in David Roberts after buying two works by him in the early 1960s.

Roberts, born in Scotland in 1796 and one of the great Victorian artist travellers, now famed for his Middle Eastern scenes, was little known when she first made inquiries. But over the next 30 years she traced his descendants and tracked down hundreds of his works. She visited places he had painted and became a leading expert, curating exhibitions in 1967, 1981 and a full retrospective at the Barbican Gallery in London in 1986 before failing health and eyesight forced her to retire.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard that Gray, the grandson of her cousin, had forged her will to make himself the executor and major beneficiary. He had also submitted a false inheritance tax return which failed to include assets of approximately £500,000, not including the art.

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