An art dealer who worked and socialised with rock stars, Hollywood A-listers, supermodels and wealthy investors has been jailed for stealing paintings and sculptures over three decades.

Jonathan Poole, 69, was sentenced to four years after being compared in court to the protagonist of the Hollywood art heist film The Thomas Crown Affair.

Poole, who worked out of two galleries in the Cotswolds, specialised in selling artworks created by music stars such as John Lennon, Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood and jazz great Miles Davis.

The prosecution suggested that Poole, from Poulton, Gloucestershire, may have been using the money to fund a gambling habit, service debts or was stashing it away for his future.

Poole admitted 26 offences of theft and fraud against nine victims involving artworks worth about £500,000.

James Ward, prosecuting, asked Gloucester crown court to imagine his clients’ shock when they realised the international art dealer they trusted was a “professional thief of some ability”.

Ward said: “His life’s work has been as artist and art dealer. He was trusted by the wealthy individuals who invested in art.

“He was trusted by internationally acclaimed celebrities such as Ronnie Wood, Miles Davis and John Lennon.”

Ward quoted Picasso – “We all know that art is not truth” – and compared Poole to the leading character in The Thomas Crown Affair.

He said: “Both Thomas Crown and Jonathan Poole stole the paintings in broad daylight. Whilst Thomas Crown stole as a challenge because his world had become too safe, Jonathan Poole stole either to fund a gambling habit, or to stash away money for later life.

“Some of the artwork involved is still missing. Where is the money or the artwork he stole? Is it, like the Nazi gold train, hidden – only to be utilised in years to come?”

Court two was turned into a makeshift modern art gallery during the hearing to display some of the paintings connected to the case that police have recovered.

They included large works by German artist Sebastian Krüger, including one of the beat generation writer William Burroughs dressed as a gunslinger.

Also exhibited in court were four pieces by Lennon, including one called Peace and Love.

Poole, who was representing himself after sacking his defence team, said that at the peak of his 40-year career he was organising an exhibition almost every week, name-checking actor Anthony Hopkins as someone he worked with.

He said his business had started to struggle with the advent of the internet. “People would come and if they liked something they would look on the internet and find a better price for it.”

Poole has a degenerative condition and mobility problems. He said for the last five years he had been living in a single room and insisted he had none of the missing pieces. “I don’t have any art apart from my own,” he said.

Judge Michael Cullum said Poole had clearly had a successful career. “Your professional credentials and knowledge were highly regarded,” he said, but added that an aggravating feature was that he had clearly been trusted by those he had stolen from or defrauded.

Cullum seemed to take a swipe at some of Poole’s wealthy clients, saying many people would be surprised they did not always appear to keep careful track of the artworks they owned. He also said the prices of works painted by celebrities – and featuring famous people – were “inflated”.

The court was also told about a client called Richard Fenton, who had inherited three bronze horses from his aunt, Beryl Ellis. Fenton took the pieces to Poole because he also specialised in animal sculptures.

Poole promised to sell them and subsequently told Fenton they had been taken to Singapore.

“To this day the pieces have never been returned and their location is not known,” Ward said.

Poole’s known victims include the Dire Straits bass guitarist John Illsley. Poole sold two paintings by Miles Davis, owned by Illsley, but never passed the proceeds of the sale to his client. Poole’s own brother Nicholas was also a victim.

Poole was born in London but brought up in Zimbabwe. His own work, usually wildlife studies, has been exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and in galleries worldwide.

As well as creating his own work, Poole had a sparkling 40-year career as a dealer during which he won the trust of the rich and famous. While art by rock stars was his niche, he also specialised in work by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and Krüger.

Much of his business was legitimate and he was well-respected but police found that he would also promise to sell some pieces for artists, collectors or investors but not pay them the proceeds or return the works.

Poole told some clients their art had been destroyed in a flood. He strung others along for months or years with excuses. Some wealthy clients appeared to simply forget he was supposed to be selling their work.

DC Steve Crilley of Gloucestershire police’s major crime investigation team said many of the artworks had been reunited with their owners – though it is understood that Yoko Ono was approached about the Lennon works whose ownership is not known and did not want them returned.

Crilley said: “Poole was once a successful man and his victims trusted him to take care of their valuable artwork.

“Sadly, he has now tarnished his good name and he will have to live with that shame for the rest of his life.”



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