Couple jailed for hiding Russborough paintings

 

A couple who hid oil paintings worth over €18 million stolen from Russborough House in the attic of their Clondalkin home, have been jailed for six months and a year respectively.

Thomas (48) and Noleen (46) Douglas, from Deansrath Road, who recently celebrated their silver jubilee wedding anniversary, had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to handling stolen property on December 20th, 2002.

Judge Desmond Hogan, who described them as "small but important cogs" in a crime carried out by organised and efficient criminals, imposed a three-year sentence on each but suspended the last two-and-a-half years of Noleen's sentence and the last two years of her husband's sentence.

The couple, who have two children aged 24 and 19, had no previous convictions, and had agreed to hide the stolen paintings when Thomas Douglas was approached to do so by people described in court as "not the type of individuals that you said no to."

Detective Sergeant George Coyne said he accepted the Douglases had nothing to do with the heist itself, which was carried out by armed and masked men on September 29th, 2002 at the well-known stately home in Blessington, Co. Wicklow.

Det Sgt Coyne told Mr Paul Greene BL, prosecuting, that a gang of masked and armed men entered the building from the rear after driving a jeep up the back steps and ramming the doorway with a special apparatus attached to vehicle.

They removed five paintings, including two by Rubens. Sgt Coyne said their total value is estimated at €18.5 million, although they would fetch more if sold on the open market.

Three months after the heist at Russborough, gardaí received confidential information that led them to search the Douglas's home. The paintings were found in the attic and both were arrested They accepted full responsibility for the stolen property and revealed how they came into their possession.

Det Sgt Coyne said Mrs Douglas and the couple's son James, who both worked for Musgrave's Cash & Carry, lost their jobs after the incident.

Her husband, who worked for Dublin Corporation for a number of years and then for a security company, had recently lost his job as a result of handling the stolen paintings.

Mr George Birmingham SC and Mr Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, both said it was not often the court dealt with people celebrating their silver wedding anniversary.

Judge Hogan partially suspended their sentences after taking into account their previous good character, their early pleas of guilty, and their cooperation with gardai.

He noted that the couple's neighbours had organised a petition on their behalf, showing the high regard with which they were held in the community. He also noted they had already suffered a loss of their good name as well as their jobs as a result of their involvement in the crime.