Art thieves strike at prestigious gallery

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A SCULPTURE worth almost £4,000 was stolen from a Battle art gallery during an audacious distraction burglary.

The bronze ballerina statue, standing at around one foot tall, was swiped from a plinth in the Saffron Gallery in the High Street while an attempt was made to distract gallery director Liz Honey.

At around 10.40am on Tuesday July 30, a man walked into the gallery and headed towards the second room, out of sight of Liz’s desk.

Moments later, another man arrived and tried to engage Liz in conversation at the other end of the gallery before joining the first man.

The pair then took the statue from the plinth standing in the centre of the room and left the gallery with the sculpture hidden under the first man’s jacket.

Realising what had happened, Liz raced into the other room and spotted the empty plinth.

She alerted the Shop Watch Scheme and dialled 999.

Husband Simon, who is based at the Sussex Framing Centre in Abbey Court, also raced to the scene.

When the crooks left the gallery, they were seen to turn left, heading towards the Abbey.

But when Liz got outside, the pair had vanished, possibly fleeing in a waiting car.

Liz was left shocked by the incident.

She said: “I felt disbelief because it’s the first time anything like this has happened in seven years.

“I’m not aware of any attempted thefts in the past, so it was a bit of a shock.

“Even when I rushed into that room to see what he had taken, I still did not expect to see an empty plinth.”

“The thieves even stole the price tag which stood next to the statue on the plinth.

Police believe the £3,800 artwork may have been stolen to order or the crooked duo could attempt to sell it on.

The sculpture was the work of Kent-based artist Guy Portelli, who came to the public’s attention following his successful appearance on TV’s Dragons Den.

Guy Portelli VPRBA FRBS said: “To have a piece stolen does make an artist feel violated.

“But it’s not a nice thing for the gallery either and I hope Liz and Simon maintain the openness they have always shown, not only to their collectors, but all art lovers who are stimulated by having a top-quality gallery in Battle.

“As far as I am concerned this gallery is a service to the community and full credit to Saffron Gallery for attracting top international artists.

“We must not be compromised by those who want to profit at the expense of all.

“The fact that the thief also took the label seems to indicate the sculpture will be offered for sale and people should be aware that this piece is very easily identifiable.”

The ballerina is one of a series and has its own unique edition number.

Following the theft the Saffron Gallery has installed a state-of-the-art network of security cameras, which can be monitored remotely 24 hours a day.

The man who escaped with the sculpture under his jacket is described as white, aged in his late 30s to early 40s, about 5ft6” tall, of average build, with thick,grey hair.

At the time of the offence, he was wearing a short, lightweight brown jacket and dark trousers.

His accomplice is described as being of similar age, height and build, with short brown hair.

He was wearing a light blue and white checked shirt, which was untucked, and a pair of faded jeans.

Anyone with any information about the incident is asked to contact Sussex Police on 101.