In the wake of the Beltracchi gang’s trial in Germany, Britain has its own prolific art forgery case to report about. The case concerns the Mumford gang, who were sentenced today at Southwark Crown Court by His Honour Judge Gledhill.

The gang had come to the attention of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Art and Antiques Unit (supported by ArtBeat Special Constables) in April 2009, when they were alerted to the fraud by a London auction house, who reported their concerns about a large number of paintings being offered for sale that were alleged to be by the artist Maqbool Fida Husain.

Under Operation Sketch the Police made a number of arrests on 21st September 2009 and two of the gang handed themselves into the police the next day.

William “Billy” Mumford, the master forger imitated numerous different artists, including – Sadanand Bakre, Sayed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza, Jilali Gharbaoui, John Tunnard and Kyffin Williams. He admitted to producing thousands of fake art work.

All of the 6 gang members pleaded guilty at earlier hearings. Billy Mumford, (aged 63 years old), pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and was handed a two year prison sentence. His wife Daphne received a 12 month sentence, suspended for two years and a residence order for six months for money laundering. Martin Petrskovsky received a 21 month prison sentence for conspiracy to defraud. His wife Karen Petrskovsky received a 12 month prison sentence suspended for two years for conspiracy to defraud. Anthony Reese received a 12 month sentence to imprisonment, suspended for two years and 200 hours unpaid work for conspiracy to defraud. Paul Shepherd was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for two years and 100 hours unpaid work for fraud by false representation.

The plot involved faking provenance and concocting elaborate stories explaining how the art work came into the gang members’ possession. They would use ink-pads and Victorian paper to fake gallery stamps, in order to provide fake authenticity in order to con potential buyers and experts. A raid on the Mumford’s house led to the discovery of 100s of art work in the pipe line and tools for faking provenance.

Many of the paintings were sold on eBay and at auction houses throughout the UK and some of the purchasers bought through the online auctions come from France, Canada and USA.

The police have managed to locate about 40 paintings but it is believed that 100s remain undetected and some of the paintings have been sold on again. And so the crime is being perpetuated.

What is not clear from the reporting of this case is the value of the art work or the scale of the money laundering involved. Sadly there is no reportage about the mitigation put forward on behalf of the defendants by their barristers. However it seems compared to the two other recent art fraud cases I have written about, that these were dare I say it, light sentences.

The Beltracchi gang received sentences of 6 years, 5 years, 4 years and a 21 month suspended sentence and 100s not 1000s of art work were alleged to be forged in that case.

Sean Greenhalgh received a four year and eight month sentence for his offences.

It seems that the British fraudsters received light sentences.

Did these British art fraudsters come off lightly? Is this because art fraud is seen as victimless?

See my article on Master Forgers or Modern Day Robin Hoods, Princes of Thieves?

Jessica Franses