Man jailed for stealing religious icon from Chester Cathedral

31/01/2017

A man who stole a valuable religious icon from Chester Cathedral and replaced it with a Christmas decoration has been sentenced to nine months in prison.

Vasily Apilats, 61, of Edleston Road, Crewe, was found guilty at Chester Crown Court last month of stealing "The Raising of Lazarus" icon.

He was sentenced to nine months for the theft today (31 January 2017).

Chester Crown Court heard that Apilats stole it at some point between 14 and 18 August 2014. The icon was displayed in the Chapel of Saint Anselm in the Cathedral, which is open to the public for private prayer.

The icon is an 18th Century picture, larger than A4 and is painted on a wooden board. Historically, the white colours in the picture would normally have been black and brown so the item is unique and valuable.

The Cathedral Constable reported it missing when he noticed an angel Christmas tree-style decoration in its place in the chapel. Swabs were taken from the scene and a DNA profile of Apilats emerged.

Apilats is originally from Latvia and has lived in this country for several years. Police went to his home in Crewe where they found the icon, wrapped in a black bin bag, and a 'treasure trove' of other religious, artistic and historical items.

Apilats was arrested and interviewed. He told officers he'd gone to Chester Cathedral on 14 August 2014 to pray. He described himself as a religious man - Russian Orthodox - and that he knew a lot about the restoration of icons.

He said he'd been looking at various religious items in the Cathedral when he noticed a man watching him intently. Apilats thought the man was a member of staff.

He said the man approached him as he was about to leave and said that the Cathedral had some items that were being sold off. He said he was then shown the icon, along with some other items and was offered the chance to buy it. He said he then did - for £135.

The jury at his trial rejected Apilats version of events and found him guilty of theft. Fiona McKervey of Mersey-Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Vasily Apilats' explanation for why "The Raising of Lazarus" icon was found at his home is incredible in all respects.

"The idea that he would walk into the Cathedral, be shown into the chapel by a man he'd never met before and offered the chance to buy a precious religious artefact for £135 is just not believable.

"The theft itself is not the only dishonourable aspect of this case. It was an abuse of the trust placed in the public at places such as cathedrals and churches.

"Many people value the opportunity to pray in sacred places where there are visual reminders of their faith.  A theft such as this threatens those opportunities. We may never know why Apilats stole the artefact whether it was greed or curiosity. Either way, it was theft and he's now behind bars."