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Charges dropped against all defendants in Bulmers cider family art burglary case

Eleven defendants stood trial at Bristol Crown Court in 2018 but the case has now collapsed.

Susie and Esmond Bulmer pictured in 2009 (Ben Birchall/PA)
Susie and Esmond Bulmer pictured in 2009 (Ben Birchall/PA)

By Claire Hayhurst, PA

A trial relating to the theft of millions of pounds worth of art from a cider-making family’s home has been dropped, prosecutors have confirmed.

Fifteen paintings and a safe containing £400,000 worth of jewellery were taken from the home of Esmond and Susie Bulmer while they were away in March 2009.

During the raid, the couple’s house-sitter was hooded and tied to banisters by burglars wearing balaclavas who entered the sprawling property known as the Pavilions.

Developments in this case meant that after serious and extensive review, we concluded there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction against any of the defendants Crown Prosecution Service

In 2018, eleven men went on trial at Bristol Crown Court in connection with the burglary and an alleged subsequent insurance fraud.

Judge Julian Lambert ruled there was insufficient evidence against the defendants on a number of charges in July 2018, a decision upheld by the Court of Appeal in February this year.

A second trial on the remaining counts was due to take place in January but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided there is “no longer a realistic prospect of conviction” and offered no evidence in the case.

It can now be reported that Judge Julian Lambert, who presided over the trial in Bristol, described the prosecution’s case as based on “fragments of suspicion and coincidences”.

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Apple Blossom by Sir George Clausen, one of the stolen paintings (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Judges at the Court of Appeal agreed and called evidence against three defendants accused of conspiracy to burgle the Bulmer’s home “unacceptably tenuous”.

A spokesman for the CPS said: “As in all complex cases, we have a duty to keep all material under review.

“Developments in this case meant that after serious and extensive review, we concluded there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction against any of the defendants and so the prosecution had to be stopped.”

It is understood that the CPS applied to amend the indictment against defendants in the second trial but that this was refused.

We share the obvious disappointment of the Bulmer family and their house-sitter in not being able to bring this matter to a successful conclusion Avon and Somerset Police

New information led to a further review in the case, which led to prosecutors offering no evidence during a hearing at Bristol Crown Court last week.

Judge Lambert ruled that six of the 11 defendants had no case to answer in the first trial, which started in June 2018.

They faced charges of conspiracy to commit burglary on the Bulmer’s home, conspiracy to defraud Mr Bulmer and the family’s insurer Hiscox, becoming concerned in a money laundering agreement and conspiracy to handle stolen goods.

The second trial was due to feature four defendants who faced charges of storing stolen goods, and one defendant accused of perverting the course of justice.

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Endymion by George Frederic Watts, one of the paintings stolen (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

In a statement, Avon and Somerset Police said it accepted the CPS’s decision to offer no evidence against the defendants in that case.

A force spokesman said Mr Bulmer, a former MP, and his wife were visited by the chief constable following the initial investigation.

The chief constable “accepted that errors were made” and apologised to the couple.

“The investigation has been regularly reviewed and in 2015 a further line of enquiry was identified resulting in a new robust police investigation being launched,” the spokesman said.

“All but one of the paintings taken in 2009 were recovered and arrests made.

“This was a complex, detailed and long-running investigation and we presented a comprehensive file for the CPS, who decided to prosecute.

“We share the obvious disappointment of the Bulmer family and their house-sitter in not being able to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.”

During the trial, Mr Bulmer told how he raised concerns about the original police investigation with the chief constable as well as then-Home Secretary Theresa May.

In one letter, he described officers as “brain-dead, incompetent, of a low calibre and deplorable” but told jurors the quality of the later investigation was “of a wholly different order”.

Private detectives organised a £175,000 reward for the return of 14 of the paintings in 2015.

PA

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