Two thieves who stole a 'priceless' artwork by the sculptor Henry Moore and sold it at a scrapyard for £46 have each been jailed for a year.
Liam Hughes, 22, and 19-year-old Jason Parker stole the Working Model for Sundial - believed to be worth around half a million pounds - from the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire.
The pair returned to the artist's former home four days later and tore another sculpture, known as Upright Motive Number 7, from its bronze plinth before making off with the base, which was valued at £100,000. They sold it as scrap for £182.60.
Henry Moore is widely regarded as one of the most important British artists of the 20th Century, and his creations have fetched millions at auction. Neither of the men had any idea of the true value of what they had taken, St Albans Crown Court heard.
Sentencing the pair today, Judge Marie Catterson said: 'The value of Sundial is put at something like half a million pounds, but the truth is it is actually priceless because it cannot be replaced should it be lost.
'These actions were utterly selfish thefts. You were stealing these items for a pittance as scrap regardless of any damage or impact your actions might have on others.
'You took the risk of causing immense damage to the Henry Moore Foundation and you were risking the permanent destruction of the items that, certainly in the case of Sundial, are irreplaceable works of art,' the judge added.
When the scrapdealer who had unwittingly bought the items saw an appeal for their safe return on the television programme Crimewatch, he contacted police and returned both pieces before they were destroyed.
Parker and Hughes, both from Coltsfield in Stansted, Essex, pleaded guilty last month to stealing the 22-inch tall Sundial piece overnight on July 10. They also admitted returning to steal the plinth from another piece between July 15 and 16.
'Irreplaceable': The artist Henry Moore, who died in 1986, pictured with Sundial
The cost of repairing the damage to the artwork the pair tore from the bronze plinth, together with other necessary security works, is estimated at £13,000, the court heard.
John Carmichael, prosecuting, added that the thefts had damaged the Henry Moore Foundation's standing in the international art world.
'Perhaps of more significance to the members of the Foundation is that sculptures had to be taken from public view, taken from access,' he said.
'The Foundation is concerned that this weakens its position in the international market.
'If the reputation is that they cannot look after their own works, why would it be safe for them to look after other works.
'Henry Moore is an artist who stipulated that no further works should be made from the casts of his works, so if they disappear and are melted down, that is it,' he added.
Carlo Coccaro, in mitigation for Hughes, said the 22 year old 'wishes to apologise' for the thefts.
He said: 'They decided to take the metal from that location because they had been told it was a target for theft. It was never their intention to take it for its artistic value.
Charles Snelling, in mitigation for Parker, said his client was 'drifting into delinquency' and had been hit hard by his girlfriend’s miscarriage, which happened shortly before the theft.
Parker and Hughes were each given a 12 month jail term, which Parker will serve in a young offenders' institution.