The cider house heist
Bulmers heir’s ex-builders on trial after raiders stole art and jewellery worth £2m
A TERRIFIED housesitter was bound and hooded by burglars in a £2million raid at the home of a leading member of the Bulmers cider dynasty, a jury heard yesterday.
Deborah Barnjum was manhandled and threatened by three men who stole paintings, jewellery and antiques, the court was told.
They left her tied to a banister. She was not found until her sister came to the house the following morning.
Eleven men are accused over the ‘sophisticated heist’ on the country home of former Tory MP Esmond Bulmer and his wife Susie.
They include two builders who had worked at the property. Stephen Mooney, prosecuting at Bristol Crown Court, said that on the evening of the raid in March 2009, Mrs Barnjum locked the house in Bruton, Somerset, and had a bath before letting the family dog Echo out at about 10pm. ‘As she did so she saw three shadowy figures in the doorway as if waiting for this very moment,’ he said.
‘One man stepped forward and physically carried her into the house. He said: “If you keep quiet I won’t hurt you, down on the bed, down on the bed”. She presented no threat, a lone woman in an isolated house and yet her hands were secured with plastic ties. They then placed a blanket over her head and asked her if there was jewellery or money in the house.’ The ties were ‘brutally, unnecessarily and cruelly tight’, he said.
The burglars spent 45 minutes searching the house for valuables. Before they fled, taking Mr Bulmer’s Mercedes, they promised to leave word for someone to go to the house to rescue Mrs Barnjum.
‘They didn’t keep that promise and so she spent the night cold, frightened, tied up to a banister and hooded,’ Mr Mooney said. ‘The ties had been applied in such a way that they interfered with her circulation and as a result of being left overnight she has injuries that still impact her day-today life.
‘ In total, 15 paintings were removed as well as expensive jewellery and antiques. The total value of items taken exceeded £2million.’ The artworks, all but one of which have been recovered, included Apple Blossom, painted in 1899 by Sir George Clausen. The gang also stole a pair of silver candelabra and a safe containing jewellery worth £1million, jurors were told. Mr Bulmer, 83, who has a longstanding interest in fine arts and antiques, is a former chairman of Bulmers and was a Tory MP between 1974 and 1987. The firm, founded by two brothers in 1887, grew to be the biggest cider-maker in the world, with brands including Strongbow. It was sold in 2003, netting the family £84million. The court heard how the plan to raid the home of Mr Bulmer and his 76-year-old wife was drawn up by Liam Judge and Matthew Evans, who had done building work there months earlier. Mr Mooney said: ‘This was a sophisticated operation only uncovered by detailed police examination. Although there are 11 defendants in dock, the prosecution does not for one minute suggest that these were the only individuals involved. We acknowledge there were clearly others who have managed to avoid being apprehended.
Judge, 41, Evans, 40, and Skinder Ali, 38, are alleged to have carried out the raid. Ali and five others are accused of storing the 15 stolen artworks in a garage. Five are accused of trying to defraud insuerers which offered a reward for the return of the paintings.
Two of the men are accused of money laundering. The 11 deny the charges against them.
The trial continues.
‘A sophisticated operation’
Targeted: Esmond and Susie Bulmer at their mansion in Somerset
Recovered: Apple Blossom by Clausen
Accused: Liam Judge and Matthew Evans