Ivan Aird, a fine art dealer and Lowry collector, endured a knife being held to his young daughter's throat during robbery
The victim of a harrowing robbery during which gang members held a knife to his young daughter's throat has spoken of his relief after two men were jailed for handling stolen LS Lowry paintings.
Ivan Aird, a fine art dealer and Lowry collector, told the Guardian: "This has brought closure to something that has been going on and on and on. It has made me and my family ill for nearly five years. Now we want to get on with our lives."
Kevin Marlow, 29, and Gerard Starkey, aged 50, both from Bootle, pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods. Marlow received six-and-a-half years after also pleading guilty to possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply. Starkey was handed three years and three months.
Sentencing, Judge Graham Morrow QC said there was no suggestion any of the defendants in the case were behind the robbery of the artworks
The case at Liverpool crown court followed the earlier trial of Casey Miller from Denton in Greater Manchester. The 23-year-old was given an indefinite jail term in March 2009 after being convicted of robbery in an "audacious and well-planned" raid on Aird's Cheshire home. Of the four men who took part in the actual theft of the paintings, worth ?1.7m, three are still at large.
The nightmare for Aird and his family began early on the morning of 3 May 2007. A man posing as a postman knocked on the Aird family's door in Cheadle Hulme. When Louise Aird, who was carrying the couple's two-year-old daughter Sabrina in her arms, opened the door, she was confronted by Miller brandishing a 10-inch knife. Three other men followed him into the house.
"They tied me up with a cable and had a knife in my back," Aird, 46, said. "They said they would slit my throat. Then they said they would kill the baby if we moved, that's what they kept saying. They took everything out of the bottom half of the house."
The stolen works by Lowry included The Viaduct, a ?700,000 painting that had once belonged to Sir Alec Guinness. Another was Tanker Entering the Tyne. A pallette and brush set used by the artist were also taken as well as a series of pencil drawings. In total, the gang made off with 14 pieces of art.
Aird thought he would never see the paintings again. But an investigation by officers from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (Titan), Greater Manchester police and Merseyside police into the drugs trade and the theft of high-value paintings led to the recovery of the Lowrys at addresses in Halewood and Bootle in July 2011. At one of the properties, officers discovered around 10kg of amphetamine paste with a street value of about ?100,000 and around 100,000 ecstasy tablets with a street value of approximately ?300,000.
Lowry was a friend of Aird's father after the two men met at Salford Art Gallery. "Mr Lowry used to come to my mum and dad's every Saturday," said Aird. "He used to drop off to sleep on the sofa. He was always making jokes. I remember the first time I went to his house, there were cobwebs everywhere. He told me he would put a bowl of milk out for all the spiders and that would get rid of them. I believed that for years."
The Aird family's friendship with Lowry instilled a love of his artwork in Aird. His business specialises in Lowry paintings and, until the robbery, he hung a personal collection at home. He no longer has any artwork of value at his house. Instead, a number are on display at the Lowry Centre in Salford.
Detective Superintendent Jason Hudson from Titan said: "We were delighted to be able to return these precious paintings to the victim. They were in a poor state of repair when they were recovered and are in need of restoration so it is very fortunate that we were able to locate them before they were irreparably damaged."
Malcolm Shield, aged 41, from Halewood, who has admitted possession of Class A and B drugs with intent to supply and handling stolen goods will be sentenced next month.