The story behind the stolen £1.2m violin – R v Maughan

violin

Picture from BBC News.

BBC News reported yesterday that a violin stolen from Euston train station in 2010 has allegedly been found in Bulgaria.

On the face of it, it is not a particularly interesting story…however when the violin was a Stradivarius made in 1696 worth £1.2m the story has a little more ‘bite’.

Ms Kym, a Korean born musician who has played with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was at Euston train station in London, with her boyfriend. Sat in a cafe, they were using their computers. Ms Kym put her violin down by her side.

Maughan and two others entered the cafe, and sat next to and opposite Ms Kym. They proceeded to take the violin, along with two bows worth £65,000, and make their exit from the cafe.

To add insult to injury, the violin, worth around £1.2m was only insured for its purchase price of £750,000.

Maughan and the others had then gone to an Internet cafe, searched ‘Stradivarius’ and ‘1698’. They entered into a discussion with a man who  was sat next to them who was also researching things, and an attempt was made to sell the violin and bows to him for £100.

The violin stayed at the address of one of the men for around a week. A national appeal was launched on Crimewatch but the violin was never found.

Maughan was eventually caught. He had 59 previous offences, including a great number for theft and kindred offences. He also used 40 different aliases during his criminal career.

He pleaded guilty to theft and received 4½ years. He appealed. It was accepted that it was not a targeted theft.

The court said: “...despite the enormous value and the devastating effect that this theft had on the life of Ms Kym, it is our view that the sentence is too high and that perhaps insufficient regard was given to the fact of the plea and the personal mitigation.”

The sentence was reduced to 3½ years.

As reported by the BBC, Bulgarian officials believe they may have found the rare violin. Fingers crossed…

The appeal judgment can be seen below:

R v John Maughan 2012 EWCA Crim 692

Lord Justice Pitchford Mrs Justice Cox DBE The Common Serjeant His Honour Judge Barker QC

The Common Serjeant:

1 John Maughan is now 30 years of age. He appeared on 2nd March of 2011 at the Crown Court sitting at Blackfriars and before His Honour Judge Pillay when he pleaded guilty to a single count of theft. On 8th April, the next month, he appeared for sentence and was given four and a half years. He appears now by leave of the single judge, who in addition ordered that a psychiatric report as to his current mental state and the effects of imprisonment be placed before this court for our consideration.

2 Additionally at the Crown Court at Blackfriars there appeared two brothers, one was [Md], aged 16, the other was [Td], aged 14. They both pleaded guilty to the same count. [Md] was sentenced to a ten-month detention and training order. [Td] was remitted to the youth court for sentence and we are not aware of what happened to him.

3 The unusual facts of this case are these. On 29th November 2010 a world famous violinist, Ms Kym, was sitting with her boyfriend in a cafe on Euston Station. She and he were interested in their computers and phones, hardly surprisingly, and she placed by her side her Stradivarius violin in its case, which also contained two bows. The violin was worth in the region of £1.2 million, and it was insured for its purchase price of £750,000. The two bows combined were said to be worth around £65,000.

4 The trio entered the sandwich bar. [Td], the youngest, went up to the counter, almost certainly to distract the staff. Mr Maughan, the appellant, sat next to Ms Kym and the other defendant, [Md], sat opposite. The appellant then stole the violin case and all three left swiftly. It took but a minute or two for Ms Kym to realise that the case had gone. She went straight to the counter and an attempt was made to search for it, but of course it had long since disappeared. Subsequent investigation of the Cctv showed the appellant and his co-defendants leaving the station with the case.

5 It turned out that the next day all three had gone to an internet cafe in the Tottenham Court Road with the violin and had researched the word “Stradivarius” and the date 1698, which was apparent from the material in the case. They then entered into a discussion with another person sitting next to them who was researching things for himself and an attempt was made to sell him the violin for £100. He refused the offer, saying that his daughter already had a recorder.

6 The matter was then placed on Crimewatch on national television and the appellant’s distinctive appearance, he is particularly short, was recognised by a number of police officers and prison officers who have come across him in the past. He was subsequently arrested on 21st November, so some four weeks after the theft. He admitted the theft but said he thought that they were stealing a computer. It is right that he gave the names and the address at which the two co-defendants lived, which led to their arrest. He declined to say anything else.

7 It appears to be common ground that the violin stayed at the address of [Td] and [Md] for about a week. They later said that it disappeared after a burglary which took place after the Crimewatch programme had appeared on television.

8 I then turn to the background of Mr Maughan. He has 59 previous offences, including a great number for theft and kindred offences. Additionally, he has used something like 40 different aliases during his criminal career.

9 In his sentencing remarks the learned judge said that although this was an opportunist theft, at least by the time that they left the internet cafe they must have known that they had a very valuable instrument. He did give credit for an early plea but he found that the Cctv footage was compelling. He noted that the violin represented Ms Kym’s life savings, it had gone and the loss would remain with her for a very long time. He observed that the appellant had a very long record and had only recently been released from prison. In his view the appellant was undoubtedly the promoter and the instigator and may well have corrupted his younger co-accused. He concluded by saying that the appellant was a recidivist and the time had come when the public should be given some respite.

10 Mr Rudston, in his grounds of appeal, indicated that insufficient regard had been given for personal mitigation. His point before us today is that there is, in his words, “insufficient headroom” for worse examples of theft, the maximum for this offence being one of seven years’ imprisonment. He also adds that the applicant has apparently made efforts in order to recover the violin.

11 We have not been assisted by any cases which are even remotely similar. The nearest is R v Hakimzadeh [2010] 1 Cr App R (S) , at page 10. It can be dealt with in this way. A distinguished scholar and an expert on cultural relations stole a number of plates from books and books from two leading libraries in this country. In that case all the missing pages from the books were recovered. We agree in fact with the observations of Blake J in the course of the judgment of this court in that case where he said that this kind of offending, where cultural property is concerned, is very different from offending where seriousness can only be gauged by the value on the open market of the items where they can be readily replaced and purchased. That case, however, on any view was an exceptional case and dealt with its own unique facts, and in our view this case must be viewed in the same way, it is exceptional and it does have its own unique facts.

12 We have been assisted by the reports which were requested by the learned single judge. We have read the psychiatric report prepared by Dr Agarwal which is dated 18th February. It points out that the appellant was brought up in a travelling community, he has no formal education, he has never been employed and he began to drink regularly and abuse Class A drugs when he was about 13 or 14. It appears that in recent times his daily routine has been to wander the streets to seek opportunities to steal in order to fund his food and drug requirements. In the view of the psychiatrist the impact of prison had not been peculiarly different in his case or in excess to that of many people who find themselves in the same predicament. We have also been provided with a report from his supervisor at Her Majesty’s Prison Everthorpe, where it is noted that the appellant has shown an improvement in his behaviour compared with previous establishments, although he has picked up five negative behaviour warnings.

13 We have listened carefully to everything that counsel has advanced to us, but the tragedy of the present case is that although this was not a targetted theft, the fact that this was an item of enormous value was apparent to the group within 24 hours and there has been no help as to the onward journey of that violin, and of course there is no clue as to its present whereabouts. Additionally, the appellant has a dismal record of dishonesty. The only mitigation of any substance is the early plea. The only issue is whether the necessary deterrent sentence was manifestly excessive, and of course counsel accepts that the judge in this unusual case was entitled to go outside the ordinary theft guidelines.

14 We have given this matter anxious consideration and, despite the enormous value and the devastating effect that this theft had on the life of Ms Kym, it is our view that the sentence is too high and that perhaps insufficient regard was given to the fact of the plea and the personal mitigation. In our judgment, the appropriate sentence in all the circumstances should be one of three and a half years. The appeal succeeds, the original sentence will be quashed and a term of three and a half years will be substituted. To that extent the appeal is allowed. Any time that he spent in custody of course will count in relation to the new sentence.

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