A gang accused of stealing the £3.75m Portland tiara and brooch from a Nottinghamshire gallery in 2018 was involved in a number of “ruthlessly executed” burglaries that also targeted footballers Ashley Cole and Tom Huddlestone, a court has heard.
Opening the case against 11 defendants at Nottingham crown court, the prosecutor, Michael Brady QC, said the burglaries and violent robberies were “extremely serious, high-profile and carefully planned”.
Kurtis Dilks, 34, is accused of being part of a four-strong gang who smashed their way into Cole’s home in Surrey with a sledgehammer and threatened to torture him before police arrived.
Jurors were told how during a knifepoint robbery in January 2020, the former England footballer Cole had his hands bound with cables ties and was forced to his knees in front of his girlfriend and two children while the burglars demanded he hand over jewellery and watches.
Dilks is also accused of being part of a six-strong gang who allegedly stole the diamond-encrusted Portland tiara, which was taken during a raid on 20 November 2018.
Three members of the group are alleged to have broken into the Harley Gallery on the Welbeck estate in Nottinghamshire and stolen the tiara and brooch within eight minutes, before any security personnel could arrive.
They wore motorcycle helmets and boiler suits, and each was carrying a hand or power tool used to gain entry to the gallery, vault and display case, the court heard.
The diamond-encrusted Cartier jewellery, worn by the Duchess of Portland at the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, was stolen in a “professionally executed, well-planned offence”, the jury was told.
Brady said the theft was a “shocking event” and the pieces would “never be seen again in their original state”, having been transported to a jeweller’s in Hatton Garden, London, for conversion hours after the break-in.
Video footage seized by police showed Ashley Cumberpatch, one of the defendants alleged to have carried out the burglary, had filmed a visit to the site with his partner and children on a GoPro camera a year before as part of a reconnaissance exercise.
The defendant can be heard marvelling at the items in the Portland collection, which also included a Michelangelo painting and a pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution, and dwelling in front of the glass case housing the tiara and brooch.
Towards the end of the visit he handed the camera to his partner, Kelly Duong, who is charged with conspiracy to burgle in relation to the theft of the tiara. She is heard saying she will film some nearby sheep “so it looks like I’m filming everything”.
In another robbery, the home of the former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Huddlestone was targeted in a “well-planned operation” while he was playing a match for Derby County.
Dilks, Cumberpatch and Andrew MacDonald are accused of conspiring to rob Huddlestone’s wife, Joanna Dixon, of £500,000 worth of jewellery and handbags, including her wedding and engagement rings.
Jurors were told the robbers used cable ties to fasten Dixon’s hands behind her back, with one allegedly saying: “Don’t make this difficult, we don’t want to manhandle you.”
Brady said: “The presence of householders did not deter these defendants. They were armed with weapons and the means to subdue them. The presence of children did not perturb them.”
Stolen items from the burglaries were passed to Tevfik Guccuk and Sercan Evsin, professional handlers who “operated an ostensibly legitimate jewellery business in Hatton Garden”, Brady said.
“Such was the value and conspicuous nature of some of the items stolen that it was not possible to sell them in the UK,” he told the jury. “The inference to be drawn from the evidence is that at times the property had to be disposed of abroad.”
The diamond-encrusted tiara, whose centrepiece is the Portland diamond, has been described as a national treasure.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance and cultural value of these pieces of jewellery,” Brady said, adding that many of the items in the Portland collection were “extremely valuable, unique and of significant historical importance”.
The defendants deny all charges. The trial continues.