'Pitmen Painters' conman who made £30,000 selling Norman Cornish forgeries must pay back only £1

A genuine Norman Cornish painting
A genuine Norman Cornish painting

A jailed conman who pocketed over £30,000 by selling forgeries and fakes of renowned painter Norman Cornish's work has been ordered to pay back just £1.

Richard Pearson caused destabilisation in the international market when he flooded the art world with paintings and drawings purported to be by"pitman painter" Cornish, who died in 2014.

The 56-year-old fraudster had convinced the owners of a gallery in Corbridge, Northumberland, that he had access to a collection of Mr Cornish's artworks through inheritance and via a friend who wanted to sell his personal collection.

Pearson, of Thomas Street North, Sunderland, passed off a series of 14 drawings and pictures, which left the gallery owners who bought them thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Four of the fakes were sold on to private collectors.

At Newcastle Crown Court in January Pearson was put behind bars for three years and seven months.

The conman has now been back in court, via video link to prison, for a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing.

Prosecutor Neil Pallister told the court Pearson's personal finances have been investigated and the conclusion is he has nothing.

Mr Pallister said: "The total benefit figure, which is not disputed, is the sum of £31,650.

"A financial investigator has made inquiries and has come to the conclusion there are no available assets.

"The application is for a confiscation order to be made in the form of a nominal order of £1.

"The matter can be reviewed regularly, to see if the defendant comes into possession of any assets."

Paul Currer, defending, said Pearson has settled into prison life and is trusted to provide a teaching service to other inmates.

Judge Edward Bindloss made an order stating that the benefit figure made by the defendant was £31,650 and that the available assets to be seized is just £1.

Judge Bindloss said: "I declare that following a rigorous financial investigation, no assets have have been found to be available to this defendant."

The judge warned that if Pearson comes into any cash, the sum up to £31,650 could still be seized from him.

Judge Bindloss told him: "If he comes into any assets in future, they are liable to be confiscated from him."

At the previous hearing in January, Norman Cornish's son-in-law Michael Thornton read a victim impact statement in court on behalf of the family.

He told the court the family on behalf of Norman Cornish ltd, actively monitor the sales of his artwork, throughout the world, and are always alert to fakes and forgeries.

Mr Thornton said this was the first time so many fakes have gone into circulation through the work of one fraudster and as a result made the art market "become nervous".

Mr Thornton urged the court to pass a deterrent sentence to protect the art world at large and added: "Norman's reputation must not be sullied".

The prosecutor at the previous hearing, Mark Giuliani said the gallery owners, the private buyers, the Cornish family and the art world as a whole are all victims in this case.

He added: "There is a large number of victims. This activity destabilises the market."

All of the artwork put into circulation by Pearson has been seized and will be destroyed by the police.

The court heard the conman forged receipts from a now closed down gallery called Stone, in Newcastle, claiming to be dated from the 1960s, to give his fakes added authenticity.

But Mr Giuliani told the court Pearson made a massive currency blunder.

He said: "What was instantly and readily apparent is rather than being in pounds, shillings and pence it is in decimal pounds and pence."

The telephone number shown on the document was too long to be legitimate.

The court heard it was when one of the paintings was taken to a restorer, who questioned why the canvass appeared to be new, that Pearson's lies began to unravel.

Even after he was challenged by the Corbridge gallery owner about the authenticity of his offerings, Pearson came up with a convincing explanation about the genuine work being in storage.

Despite being questioned, Pearson went on to convincingly claim to have access to copies of artwork by James Clark, which caused "excitement" in the gallery he was conning and led to them handing over further cash.

The court heard when Pearson failed to return to the gallery with the Clark cow paintings he had promised, the police became involved.

Pearson, who has previous convictions for dishonesty, initially told "lies, lies and more lies".

But he later pleaded guilty to nine charges of fraud, two of forgery and two of using a false instrument with intent between December 2011 and February 2014.

Judge Edward Bindloss sentenced Pearson to three years and seven months behind bars.

The judge told him at the time: "They were fakes but they were convincing fakes, with a fake signature on the corner."

Judge Bindloss said the art world relies on people having confidence in the authenticity of what they buy.

The judge added: "When confidence diminishes the market diminishes. This has potential to have effected the art market in general."

Richard Pearson, who was jailed over forged Norman Cornish paintings

Richard Pearson, who was jailed over forged Norman Cornish paintings