It looks like it was an opportunistic theft. Stephen Tillyer was on the London to Dover train on 26th January 2015 when he noticed that a passenger had left a package on the train.
Mr Tillyer seized the opportunity and got off at Folkestone West, taking his booty with him (as well as a boy’s rucksack).
It may be that he was quite surprised when he found out that that he had picked up a 16th Century viola valued at £300,000, together with two 19th Century bows valued at £35,000 each.
He was found a few days later after CCTV of his exit had been circulated. There was a trial. It’s not clear what the defence was, but by the tone of the news reports it appears that he was saying that he was going to hand the items in. If that was the case, then the jury didn’t believe him.
Mr Tillyer was sentenced on 16th September 2015 to 6 months imprisonment, but suspended for 12 months for the theft (with 3 months suspended concurrent for the theft of the bag).
This is on condition of undertaking 150 hours unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £3,500 in costs.
Was he lucky to not go straight to prison? We don’t know whether Mr Tillyer has any previous convictions, which is probably a significant factor. There are Sentencing Guidelines for Theft, but none of them really apply here given the sums involved.
If this was a planned theft of such an expensive item, then there would probably be a sentence of a couple of years. Here, though, it does seem that this was Mr Tillyer just getting away with what he could.
In light of that, it seems that the sentence is fair enough. Tough enough to reflect the value of the property stolen, whilst recognising that that wasn’t what was intended.