A SCHEMING butler secretly looted paintings by Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec and more than £2m worth of artefacts belonging to a Hungerford couple.
Former soldier Simon Dalton, 54, helped himself to gems and other valuables over a three-year period from the safe of millionaire Maj Christopher Hanbury and his wife Bridget, to feed his gambling addiction.
The 73-year-old victim, a former member of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars and an aide to the Sultan of Brunei, is a family friend of Prince Charles.
Manchester Crown Court heard how Dalton kept his addiction a secret from the couple, who run a polo stud farm.
When the victims enquired about items that were missing from the safe, Dalton would cast doubt on their memories.
The truth emerged after the family mentioned to Dalton they would install cameras in the safe – and the butler, who had a grace and favour cottage on the Hanburys’ estate – knew the game was up.
In December 2012, he fled abroad in a VW Scirocco belonging to the Hanburys.
It then emerged that artwork by Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, both worth £650,000, and a Bob Dylan painting worth £100,000 had gone missing during the thefts.
All are feared to have been sold on the black market to fund Dalton’s habit.
Three Fabergé eggs, Cartier watches and a Fabergé stamp were pawned for cash but were later recovered and returned to the family.
Police caught up with Dalton after he fled to France, in possession of £1.9m-worth of jewellery and gems which were returned to the Hanbury family.
In a statement, Mrs Hanbury, 68, said her family was “extremely private” but had welcomed Dalton into their home and “trusted him so much, they felt they could relax”.
She added: “We had a life of peaceful security before he came and acted in the way he did.
“He shattered it and we started questioning ourselves. Our emotional safe space has been defiled by this man.”
The couple's 38-year-old daughter, Jessica, said: “The delay of the sentence arriving has made it worse and he had a high degree of their trust and it was betrayed.”
Dalton, who now lives in Hale, Cheshire, admitted theft and David Farley, prosecuting, told the court: “He was employed in 2009 as a butler... the family allowed the staff to rule the house on a basis of trust and the defendant was no different.
“The family very quietly brought up items that were missing to him over the years and he would manipulate them by saying, ‘you had that in your hand don’t you remember?’
“He would manipulate them into thinking it was their fault and that they were getting forgetful or worse.”
Nick Cotter, for Dalton, said his client had never got over the death of his father and added: “Mr Dalton effectively buried his head in the sand and hoped that this case would go away, which it has not.
“But he would like to now through me, offer his apologies.
“He was almost welcomed by the Hanburys as a member of their family.'”
Passing sentence on Monday, Judge Martin Steiger QC told Dalton: “The defendant was a trusted steward for a wealthy family and he was entrusted with the upkeep of the house and the state of some of their financial affairs.
“Three extremely valuable and nearly priceless works of art have never been recovered.
“It is clear during this time they were pawned for cash to substantiate a exorbitant gambling problem.
“During his earlier reports Mr Dalton attempted to place all of the blame on the Hanburys themselves and I reject the idea that he is remorseful at all.”
Dalton was jailed for six years.