Stolen £1m Stanley Spencer painting found next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets


Stolen £1m Stanley Spencer painting found next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets

‘The circumstances of its recovery underline the links between cultural heritage crime and wider criminality’

Mattha Busby – Jun 4, 2018

Stanley Spencer
Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham

Six years ago a painting worth £1m was stolen from a gallery in Berkshire and its “devastated” owners feared they would never see it again.

The artwork has since been returned after police found it under a bed next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets.

‘Cookham from Englefield’ the work by Sir Stanley Spencer, was taken from the Stanley Spencer Gallery in 2012.

Cookham from Englefield

Its whereabouts remained a mystery until police arrested Harry Fisher, 28, in June last year when they searched his west London flat after finding a kilogram of cocaine and £30,000 in cash in his Mercedes.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the painting’s owners, who were “devastated” at the loss, were reunited with the artwork last month.

Graphic designer Susan Elsden had lent the piece – commissioned by her grandfather, a friend of Spencer – to the gallery in the 1990s.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis said: “Spencer is one our most renowned painters and a true great of the 20th century. It is wonderful that this story has had a happy ending and the painting has been returned to its rightful owners.”

Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of the Metropolitan Police’s art and antiques unit, said: “The art and antiques unit was delighted to assist with the recovery and return of this important painting.

“The circumstances of its recovery underline the links between cultural heritage crime and wider criminality.

“The fact that the painting was stolen five years before it was recovered did not hinder a prosecution for handling stolen goods, demonstrating the Met will pursue these matters wherever possible, no matter how much time has elapsed.”

Described by the Stanley Spencer Gallery gallery as “undoubtedly one of our greatest British artists”, Sir Spencer often used the Berkshire village of his birth, Cookham, as inspiration for his work during a 45-year career.

He died in 1959, the same year he was knighted.

Sir Spencer is considered as a master of 20th-century British art and is well known for vivid recreations of his Berkshire home.

According to a cache of love letters released in 2016, his private life was as colourful as his paintings.

Art history is littered with occasions of theft, but stolen paintings quite often manage to find their way home somehow.

In 1911, in perhaps the most notorious art theft of the 20th century, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was stolen by a worker who had been hired to install protective glass at the Louvre.

Vincenzo Preuggia made off with the masterpiece hidden under his coat. He later attempted to justify the crime as an act of patriotism, after he had returned the painting to Italy and tried to sell it to the director of a major gallery in Florence. He was jailed for seven months.

In 2003, £4m worth of artworks by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Gauguin were stolen in an audacious heist from Manchester’s Whitworth art gallery.

The artworks were found three days later rolled up in a derelict public toilet with a note that claimed: “The intention was not to steal. Only to highlight the woeful security.”


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