An anti-drugs operation led police to LS Lowry masterpieces worth £1.7 million which had been snatched in a violent robbery, a court heard today.
Malcolm Shield, 41, of Arncliffe Road, Halewood, Kevin Marlow, 29, of Halby Road, Bootle, and Gerard Starkey, 50, of Southport Road, also Bootle, are expected to be sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court this week after pleading guilty to handling the stolen artworks.
Gerald Baxter, prosecuting, told the court today that police followed Marlow to the Arncliffe Road flat where Shield lived with his lover Erin Edwards during an anti-drugs surveillance operation in the Orrell Park and Bootle areas of Merseyside.
When officers stormed the property they found Lowry artworks - including two masterpieces, The Viaduct, and Tanker Entering the Tyne - which had been stolen by four robbers in a violent raid on art dealer Ivan Aird's home in Cheadle Hulme, Stockport, in May 2007.
The next day officers conducted a search at a yard in Northfield Road, Bootle.
Inside a shipping container leased there by Starkey they also found artworks by Lowry and his fellow northern artist Arthur Delaney.
Mr Baxter said today: "Mr Aird was shown all the items in August and identified them as having been stolen from him.
"Total value of all items recovered after restoration and at full market value is £1,548,400."
"The Crown does not suggest any of the defendants in this case were behind the robbery," he added.
Mr Baxter said 14 works of art were stolen in the robbery, with a total notional value of £1.3 million to £1.7 million in an undamaged state and on the open market.
He told the court that when police raided the flat in Arncliffe Road, Shield said "I know why you're here - the paintings", and pointed out where they were.
Police also found a quantity of drugs which included 2kg of amphetamine with a street value of £9,300 to £18,600, and bags of white powder or paste weighing 7.3kg with a street value of £36,689 to £73,379.
In addition to the charges of handling stolen goods, Shield pleaded guilty to possession with intent to supply Class A and Class B drugs, while Marlow pleaded guilty to possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply.
Erin Edwards, 33, of Arncliffe Road, was found guilty of possession with intent to supply Class B drugs following an earlier trial at Liverpool Crown Court and will be sentenced together with the other three defendants.
In March 2009, career criminal Casey Miller was jailed indefinitely at Manchester Crown Court for his role as a "useful piece of muscle" in the 2007 theft of the paintings.
The three other men who took part in the robbery are still at large.
The trial of Shield, Marlow, Starkey and Edwards, presided by Judge Graham Morrow QC, will resume tomorrow.