Corby-led gang 'stole art worth £1.6m' from stately home of businessman David Ross as well as 319,000 face masks during lockdown as part of £4m haul, court hears

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Day 1: ‘High value’ property worth up to £4m included original art, JCBs, Range Rovers and Rushden Lakes clothing

A gang stole £4m of ‘high value’ loot during a two-year spree that began with an art smash-and-grab at a stately home, a court has heard.

Among their alleged haul – taken in 22 separate raids – were 319,000 NHS facemasks taken during lockdown, Range Rovers, JCBs, piles of goods from Amazon, pallets of Joules clothing and 540 solar panels.

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During an astonishing opening day of the trial at Northampton Crown Court, a jury heard details of how each of the organised crime gang was a ‘willing and enthusiastic participant’.

Works of original art were allegedly stolen from Nevill Holt Hall by the gang, as well as 319,000 face masks from the Eurohub.Works of original art were allegedly stolen from Nevill Holt Hall by the gang, as well as 319,000 face masks from the Eurohub.
Works of original art were allegedly stolen from Nevill Holt Hall by the gang, as well as 319,000 face masks from the Eurohub.

Adel Chouhaib, Barry and Robert Mitchell, William Castle and Suray Hamdi are said to have run a plot that involved many others across Corby, around the country and across the world. They deny all the charges against them.

Prosecuting barrister Dharmendra Toor, said: “Their objective was simple – to target business premises.

"They wanted to target items of value. From high value artworks, luxury designer clothes, products from Coca-Cola and Amazon and even a large volume of PPE.

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"Some parts of the conspiracy took place during successive lockdowns brought about by the pandemic which the group clearly took advantage of.

Howard Hodgkin's 'Garden', worth an estimated £500,000, was one of the original paintings stolen during a burglary.Howard Hodgkin's 'Garden', worth an estimated £500,000, was one of the original paintings stolen during a burglary.
Howard Hodgkin's 'Garden', worth an estimated £500,000, was one of the original paintings stolen during a burglary.

"Many of the items still have simply not been recovered. The losses were worth up to £4m or a figure most likely in excess of this.”

Mr Toor said that as each offence was committed, the group gained in confidence.

“Be it arrogance, perhaps,” he continued, “but they became determined to continue because they were onto a good thing and thought they’d never get caught.”

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He told the jury that police had seized cash, phones, stolen goods and drugs from the properties they raided in Autumn 2022, and had found ‘significant volumes’ of cash going through their bank accounts – the ‘benefits of their ill-gotten gains’.

Sir Peter Blake's La Verne Baker and Peter Philips' Custom Painting No 6 were among those artworks stolen during the 2019 burglary at Neill Holt Hall.Sir Peter Blake's La Verne Baker and Peter Philips' Custom Painting No 6 were among those artworks stolen during the 2019 burglary at Neill Holt Hall.
Sir Peter Blake's La Verne Baker and Peter Philips' Custom Painting No 6 were among those artworks stolen during the 2019 burglary at Neill Holt Hall.

Who were the men involved?

The accused are Adel Chouhaib, of Bede Close Corby, who also has a home at Wheelwright Road in Birmingham. The prosecution alleges Chouhaib, 44, masterminded the plot and personally took part in some of the thefts.

His right-hand man was said to be Barry Mitchell of Carmarthen Way in Rushden. The 43-year-old is accused of being involved in the organisation of moving around the goods, as well as storing them at his GrabHire4U business in Rixon Road on the Finedon Way Industrial Estate, Wellingborough.

William Castle, 33 of Brangwyn Walk in Corby is said to have been in charge of cloning vehicles for the gang’s use, as well as taking part in some of the high-value thefts.

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Robert Mitchell – Barry’s younger brother – is accused of helping to move the stolen goods around. The 38-year-old is of London Road in Raunds and worked at his brother’s business.

At the centre of the plot was also businessman Suray Hamdi, 47, of Chain Close, Peterborough, who is said to have handled the movement of property and organised others to move it around.

All are accused of conspiring to burgle and conspiring to steal and Chouhaib is also accused of handling stolen goods.

The court heard there were also others involved who are not named on the indictment, some of whom have not been tracked down by police.

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When did the thefts take place?

Officers have concentrated their investigations on the organised crime gang dubbed ‘OCG Square’ which they say operated between November 20, 2020 and September 23, 2022 when more than 50 officers raided 12 premises in Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and the West Midlands as part of Operation Kedgeree. These included GrabHire4U, J A Mitchell Haulage in Ditchford, a serviced office address in Lincoln Road, Peterborough linked to Hamdi, and all the alleged gang’s homes.

The home of another man Cameron Hughes in Finland Way, Corby, was also searched. The jury was told that police have not managed to track down Hughes.

The earlier art theft at Nevill Holt Hall is said to have taken place in April 2019.

The thefts were centred around Corby and North Northamptonshire but premises in Leicester, Melton Mowbray, Nottingham, London and a rural site near Portsmouth were also hit.

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What was stolen?

There were 22 thefts in total that the prosecution allege can be attributed to some or all members of the gang including:

- On April 17/18, 2019, works of art worth £1.6m were stolen during a burglary at Nevill Holt Hall, just over the border in Leicestershire.

- On November 15, 2019, 60 pallets of Joules clothing were stolen from Corby.

- On November 19, 2020, it’s alleged the gang stole two trailers of PPE including 319,000 facemasks destined for the NHS, worth £437,000 and owned by Full Support Healthcare, from Eurohub in Corby.

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- On December 4, 2020, the gang are said to have stolen 540 solar panels from Ethical Power near Rugby.

- On December 18, 2020, it’s said they stole an Amazon trailer packed with food mixers from a site near Glenfield in Leicester.

- On December 21, 2020, 26 pallets of Amazon stock was taken from Wincanton in Corby.

- On February 18, 2021, a diesel mixer was taken from a C3 Construction site in Weldon.

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- On February 26, 2021, 51 pallets of antiseptic wipes were stolen from a Northamptonshire address.

- On March 14, 2021 it’s said the gang stole a large quantity of baby equipment from S&J Haulage at Melton Mowbray.

- On June 17, 2021, that defendants are accused of stealing a JCB telehandler from a site at Upper Benefield.

- On June 25, 2021, a Ford Transit tipper was taken from a building site in Southampton Road near Portsmouth.

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- On June 28, 2021, it’s alleged that the men stole a Range Rover from an address in London.

- On July 11, 2021, an Ifor Williams trailer was taken from Goodwill Solutions at Moulton Park.

- On July 12, 2021, a Kubota digger was stolen from Burghley Park Golf Club, Stamford.

- On July 17, 2021, a JCB was stolen from another building site.

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- On July 22, 2021, it’s said the gang stole number plates from Truckwright in Corby.

- On August 4, 2021, the gang is accused of stealing another trailer from Peterborough.

- On September 14, 2021, games consoles were stolen from Smyths in Corby.

- On September 20, 2021, another Range Rover was taken from Muswell Hill in London.

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- On September 22, 2021, designer clothing worth £76,000 was stolen during a smash and grab at Flannels at Rushden Lakes.

- On September 26, 2021, CMG Rescue Service at Mansard Close, Northampton, was targeted and a number of items stolen.

‘Just safe, no damage’

The prosecution opened their case in front of a packed courtroom of ten barristers by telling the jury more details from the first alleged burglaries.

The jury heard that Mr Ross, the owner of Nevill Holt Hall, was on holiday in April 2019 when his house manager, who lives in the grounds, was alerted to a burglary. The gang had smashed a window to get into the house and were still on the property and trying to get away.

He noticed a number of paintings had been stolen.

They included:

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- A £500,000 painting by renowned British artist Sir Howard Hodgkin entitled ‘Small Staff Room’.

- A Gilbert & George photo worth £2,000.

- A 1961 Sir Peter Blake work called ‘La Vern Baker’ worth £400,000.

- A piece called ‘Custom Painting No 6’ by Peter Philips worth £155,000.

- A second Sir Howard Hodgkin called ‘Gardens’, from 1961, worth £500,000.

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The court was told that photographs of these stolen paintings were found on Chouhaib’s phone as he allegedly attempted to sell them. WhatsApps from the beginning of 2021 were shown to the jury where another man tells Chouhaib he may have found a buyer for them. Chouhab then sent a message saying he would take them to Spain, but he was told by the man not to move them. He added: ‘Just safe. No damage.’


The court then heard about the PPE theft on November 19, 2020 during a UK pandemic lockdown.

Mr Toor said: “They appreciated the demand and need for these items.”

The gang are said to have broken into the site in Longcroft Road, Corby, in the early hours of the morning and stole 800 boxes containing 319,000 face masks that were the property of Wellingborough-based Full Support Healthcare.

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Just eight hours after the burglary, the court heard that photos were taken by Barry Mitchell’s phone of containers matching lot numbers of those that were stolen.

Video of the face masks in a storage unit were shown to the jury, with many of them soaked-through by a flood.

Messages between Mitchell and Chouhaib said: “The face shields are still here.”

"How are things with the Lego and chocolate and stuff?”

“Choc gone. Lego not here yet.”

"What do you have in stock?”

"The masks and some Amazon. Mixed load.”

More messages on January 10, 2021 between Hamdi and Chouhaib stated that ‘980 boxes’ had been sold this year, and netted the gang £7,350 each.

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The court was told there were ‘millions’ passing through Barry Mitchell’s business bank account. Officers found £50,000 in cash in Mitchell’s home address.

Stolen Solar Panels

The jury heard details of how the gang allegedly stole 540 solar panels worth £45,000 from a solar farm near Rugby. Workers who returned to the site on December 5, 2020, found locks cut and the panels missing from the site. About 140 of them were found when police raided Mitchell’s business premises in September 2022.

Newspaper searches for similar thefts were found on Chouhaib’s seized phone. Suray Hamdi was allegedly tasked with printing up fake labels for the panels so they could be shipped abroad to Morocco. Videos of the panels in large racks in a warehouse were shown to the jury.

The trial is expected to continue into October.