FORMER cat burglar Peter Scott was yesterday jailed for three and a half years for his part in a plot to sell a stolen pounds 750,000 Picasso painting.
Scott, 67, who had netted an estimated pounds 30m since the Thirties, was supposed to have "retired" from crime 10 years ago to become a celebrity tennis coach. But he could not resist one last crime when Tete de Femme came his way following an armed robbery at the Lefevre Gallery in Mayfair, central London, in March last year, Snaresbrook Crown Court was told.
Scott, who numbered Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Mia Farrow, Ginger Rogers and Zsa Zsa Gabor among his victims, breathed a sigh of relief as he heard his fate. He had told reporters he expected to receive up to six years.
Judge Andrew Brooks told him and his accomplice, Ronald Spring, 70, who received a two-year sentence suspended for 24 months, that what they had done was so "grave and serious" that there was no alternative to custodial sentences.
"There is evidence to suggest that there is a growing and active market for stolen art of a very high value in this country and, I dare say, abroad, and this type of offence has become prevalent," the judge said. He was told that Scott had served a total of 22 years in previous sentences.
Minutes before the jury was due to consider its verdict following a five-day trial, Scott, of Islington, north London, entered a guilty plea to conspiring to handle the masterpiece.
Property dealer Spring, who agreed to dispose of the painting for Scott, admitted his guilt at the outset. The former legal executive, of Southgate, north London, who was arrested trying to sell the masterpiece to an undercover officer seven days after it had been stolen, agreed to help snare his partner in crime in a police sting.
Spring, who handled Scott's divorce in 1969 and then lost touch with him until the burglar published his autobiography, Gentleman Thief, said Scott had handed him a suitcase containing the Picasso hours after it had been taken, demanding pounds 70,000-75,000 within seven days.
The officer who led the police operation said he believed Scott "revelled in infamy". Detective Constable Andrew Kennedy, of the National Crime Squad, called him " a likeable rogue" but said he had still committed "very serious crimes".
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