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British heiress was behind 1974 unsolved art theft for IRA: book

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Allegations: Rose Dugdale arriving at RTE studios

Allegations: Rose Dugdale arriving at RTE studios

Allegations: Rose Dugdale arriving at RTE studios

A wealthy British heiress who found notoriety for her involvement with the IRA could well have been involved in one of the highest profile art thefts of the 20th century, a new publication has claimed.

Rose Dugdale, now 79 and still living in Ireland, has been linked to the 1974 as-yet unsolved theft of a valuable work by Dutch master Johann Verneer from a stately home in north London.

Dugdale, a former English débutante and the daughter of a millionaire, is said to have embraced Irish revolutionary politics following the events of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

A student at the elite Miss Ironside's School in Kensington, her involvement in a series of art thefts, all to raise funds for the IRA, is documented in a new book by a US museum security expert, Anthony Amore, due to be published in November.

The Woman Who Stole Vermeer charts the role played by Dugdale in some of the highest profile art thefts in the 1970s.

Educated at Oxford, Dugdale was the heiress to a country estate in Devon, and stole paintings from her own family home to raise funds for the IRA.

Now it's her alleged involvement in the 1974 theft of one of Vermeer's most famous works that's been brought to the fore.

The Guitar Player was stolen from Kenwood House in north London.

The 1672 masterpiece, a portrait of a young girl playing a small guitar, was stripped from its frame and went missing for three months after a break-in.

A substantial ransom note demanded the transfer to a Northern Ireland prison of jailed IRA bombers Dolores and Marian Price, who were on hunger strike in Brixton Prison attempting to secure repatriation to Ireland at the time.

The painting was eventually recovered from a London cemetery following an anonymous tip off, but the theft, according to Amore, could well be another in a line of art thefts carried out by Dugdale in the 1970s.

Dugdale had been arrested soon after the theft from her own family home in 1972 and received a two year suspended sentence.

The judge said he considered the risk of her committing any further criminal acts to be "extremely remote".

But just two months after the theft of the Vermeer from Kenwood House, Dugdale was a member of an IRA gang which broke into Russborough House in Co Wicklow, the stately home of a former Conservative MP, Sir Alfred Beit.

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One of the stolen paintings: ‘Lady writing a letter with her maid’

One of the stolen paintings: ‘Lady writing a letter with her maid’

One of the stolen paintings: ‘Lady writing a letter with her maid’

The gang tied up the owner and made off with 19 works of art, among them another of Vermeer's famous works, Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, plus other valuable pieces by Rubens, Goya and Gainsborough.

All 19, valued at around £8m at the time, were eventually recovered from the boot of a car at a home Dugdale was renting in Cork. She was sentenced to nine years for her role in the theft, and for playing her part in a previous attack on an RUC station in Strabane.

The Russborough House theft also produced a ransom note calling for the release from prison of the Price sisters, with Amore claiming Dugdale had gone after those works of art after the earlier theft of the Vermeer from Kenwood House failed to secure their transfer.

After her release in 1980, Dugdale was active in the campaign in support of protesting Irish republican prisoners during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

The author was unable to interview Dugdale for the book.

Belfast Telegraph