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Mystery still surrounds Spain’s greatest-ever art heist 

PAGE 20 MYSTERY

Detectives investigating the greatest-ever contemporary art heist in Spain have recovered three out of five Francis Bacon masterpieces woth 30 million euros but the discovery is still shrouded in mystery.

Spanish police are refusing to give details of where the paintings were found and whether they had been hidden or sold on to a new owner.

It is understood inside information from one member of the gang led to the discovery of the three Bacon portraits.

Police say they have to keep the details under wraps because they still hope to find the two outstanding portraits stolen two years ago in Madrid.

The works are owned by a friend of the artist himself, 59-year-old José Capelo as part of the legacy he inherited from the Irish painter.

Ten people had already been arrested in connection with the 2015 heist at his home whilst he was away in London. Seven people were arrested in 2016 and a further three in Madrid earlier this year.

The last trio are thought to be responsible for the break-in and are still on parole. They had unsuccessfully twice to sell the works in Spain.

In addition to the paintings, the thieves stole a safe containing jewels and a collection of old coins valued at 400,000 euros.

The gang managed to disable the alarm before forcing their way in, leading police to believe the heist was meticulously planned and that the owner was probably staked out before he went to the UK.

“They worked with the greatest of precautions to leave no trace of their identity, which gives an idea of their professionalism,” said the police at the time. “No neighbour heard anything. “

Ironically, the original seven were arrested after making one huge blunder.

They were tracked down after they took photos of their valuable haul on a rented camera and then returned it to the shop.

The pictures came to light when an art dealer in Madrid sent them to a British company dedicated to finding missing artwork and asked if “they were listed as stolen”.

“The photo showed the front and back of one of the Bacon portraits and had a signature scrawled on the back of them,” said a police spokesman. “The company assumed the snaps were taken AFTER their theft and therefore made contact with us with their suspicions.”

By studying the photos, police and expert investigators were able to find out exactly what type of camera was used and where the equipment was hired from.

The ten arrested men are believed to have committed at least 16 burglaries in Madrid, Catalonia and Galicia.

During the arrests, officers found a gun, ammunition, communication material, handwritten notes of possible thefts, plaques and emblems of security companies, employees’ uniforms from telecommunications companies, locks, keys, apparatus for opening doors and oxy-fuel cylinders, plus a wide variety of material used in the thefts.

The investigation into the heist remains open, with a police source told Spanish newspaper El Pais: “We are very hopeful about locating the other two stolen paintings.”

Francis Bacon died in Madrid, a city he loved and frequently visited, in 1992. He was 82.