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Last Updated: Monday, 28 April, 2003, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Stolen paintings can be repaired
The Fortification of Paris with Houses
Van Gogh painted The Fortification of Paris with Houses in 1878

Three paintings stolen from a Manchester art gallery should be back on the gallery's walls within a fortnight, despite being damaged.

The works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Gauguin - thought to be worth a total of 4m - were reported missing from the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester on Sunday.

The paintings - Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape - were found the next day crammed into a tube behind a public toilet.

A spokeswoman for Manchester University, of which the gallery is a part, said the paintings had suffered weather damage, and the Van Gogh had suffered a tear in the fabric, but added that all could be repaired.

A note was attached to the paintings claiming the motive of the thieves was to highlight poor security at the gallery.

Public toilet in Manchester's Whitworth Park
The paintings were in a public toilet in Manchester's Whitworth Park

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Roberts from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said: "The hand written note which was found with the paintings suggests they were taken as a noble cause, however unfounded this may be.

"If this is the case it has certainly backfired on the person or persons responsible and I am now investigating an offence of theft."

The university spokeswoman said: "The Van Gogh has a tear in one of the corners, but nothing that isn't repairable.

"The other two paintings have been damaged from being exposed to the elements but all three should be rehung in two weeks."

But Jo Beggs, from the Whitworth Gallery, said repairing the damage could be time consuming.

She said: "Leaving them outside could have had an effect on the paper.

Poverty by Pablo Picasso
Picasso created Poverty in 1903

"They are very fragile. They are very old works so they are going to need possibly a lot of repair after being exposed to the air.

"The very act of taking them out of a frame and putting them in a tube could have caused some damage."

She added the Van Gogh tear was "quite significant".

Police said an anonymous tip-off at about 0200 BST on Monday led them to the paintings.

The works of art went missing after 2100 BST on Saturday in what police described as a "well-planned" theft.

It is believed the thieves forced their way into the gallery's Pilkington room, where some of the modern art treasures are on display.

Tahitian Landscape by Gauguin
Gauguin used pencils and watercolours on Tahitian Landscape

The Fortification of Paris With Houses was painted by Van Gogh in 1878, using pencil, chalk and watercolours.

Between 1891 and 1893, Parisian Paul Gauguin created his dramatic Tahitian Landscape with pencils and watercolours.

Pablo Picasso created Poverty, the outline of a frail man guiding a small child, in 1903.

Ms Beggs defended security at the gallery which was upgraded two years ago, but added it would now be reviewed.

"The gallery has a very sophisticated security system," she said.

"We have CCTV cameras, alarms and rolling patrols outside at night.

"This has highlighted a number of issues, and we will be looking at those with the police and university security."

Catherine Marston reports from Manchester
"The thieves were able to move around undetected"

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