Bulmers cider magnate slams police in multi-million pound art heist 

An heir to the Bulmers cider dynasty criticised the police investigation into the £2million raid of his home as ‘brain dead, incompetent and deplorable’.

Eleven men are accused of being involved in the ‘sophisticated heist’ on the sprawling Somerset home of ex-Conservative MP Esmond Bulmer and wife Susie.

Artwork and antiques totalling more than £2million were stolen during the raid on the five-bedroom property in Bruton in 2009. Three of the raiders, two of them former builders at the Bulmers’ home, are alleged to have tied a housesitter to a bannister before stealing 15 paintings and £400,000 worth of jewellery during the raid.

 Esmond and Susie Bramer’s home near Bruton in Somerset was the scene of a major art theft

The burglary happened in March 2009, but the men have only just been brought to trial at Bristol Crown Court. Jurors have been told other gang members are likely still at large.

Giving evidence yesterday, Mr Bulmer, a former chairman of Bulmers – which was sold in 2003, earning the family £84million, described the initial Avon and Somerset Police investigation as ‘brain dead’.

The 83-year-old said the paintings were only recovered, and the men subsequently brought to trial, after a sting operation arranged by the Bulmers, their insurers, and a former police officer specialising in the recovery of stolen art.

He also claimed that officers dismissed his list of suspicions over who was behind the raid on his prized art collection, which he had been collating since 1956.

Mr Bulmer, who was in Barbados when the raid occurred, said he had returned home to find forensic officers searching his home.

He then spent days painstakingly collecting a list of stolen items to assist with the probe. But after four months, police came and told him their inquiries had ‘come to nothing’. The lack of progress forced him to log a complaint with the force’s chief constable and then-home secretary Theresa May in August 2010.

Mr Bulmer, who was an MP from 1974 to 1987, told jurors: ‘The chief constable [later] came to apologise to us for the failure of the earlier investigation.

Theft: The painting Apple Blossom was among 15 stolen from Esmond and Susie Bramer

Theft: The painting Apple Blossom was among 15 stolen from Esmond and Susie Bramer

‘The quality of the police investigation subsequently has been of a wholly different order.’

In one letter sent to police after the first investigation, Mr Bulmer described officers as ‘brain dead, incompetent, of a low calibre and deplorable’. He told the court: ‘All of which the chief constable has accepted and apologised for.’ After the police probe came to nothing, former policeman Richard Ellis was employed by Hiscox Insurance.

In February 2015 – after six years of the raiders not being found – Mr Ellis arranged a ‘sting operation’ in which an advert was placed in the Antiques Trade Gazette offering a £50,000 reward for the paintings.

After contact was made with the burglars, a ransom was agreed, said Mr Bulmer.

However, the burglars then threatened to sell one of the paintings to an oligarch. The ransom was raised to £175,000 and the paintings were returned to a secure location in August 2015.

The insurers kept police updated, Mr Bulmer said, and the raiders were eventually tracked down by officers and arrested. All but one of the paintings – which included 1899 work Apple Blossom by Sir George Clausen and pre-Raphaelite pieces – were recovered.

The court had earlier heard the plot to raid Mr Bulmer’s home was dreamt up by Liam Judge and Matthew Evans, who had done building work there months earlier. Judge, 41, Evans, 40, and Skinder Ali, 38, are alleged to have carried out the raid. Ali and five others are accused of storing the 15 stolen artworks. Five are accused of trying to defraud insurers which offered the reward. Two of the men are accused of money laundering. The 11 deny the charges against them. The trial continues. 

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