A LANDOWNER could be prosecuted after removing two listed lead urns from the grounds of his country pile without permission.

The 18th-century urns graced Marcus Dill’s seven-bedroom home, Idlicote House, in Shipston-on-Stour, before he sold them at auction in 2009.

The work of Flemish sculptor, John van Nost, he didn’t realise until six years later that they and their limestone pedestals were listed.

But Stratford-on-Avon District Council clamped down and demanded that he get them back and restore them to the his grounds.

Mr Dill explained that the urns and pedestals had been shipped abroad after he sold them for £55,000.

He doesn’t even know the purchaser’s name and he has absolutely no way of getting them back, said his barrister, Richard Harwood QC.

But the council hit him with a planning enforcement notice forcing him to track them down or face the consequences.

And this week that order was upheld by Court of Appeal judges, meaning Mr Dill could face a criminal trial if he fails to comply.

Lord Justice Hickinbottom rejected Mr Dill’s arguments that the urns and pedestals are not “buildings” and should never have been listed.

Mr Harwood earlier told the court that the consequences of the planning row could be “very serious” for Mr Dill.

If an international hunt for the urns fails, he could be fined, or even jailed, if convicted of breaching the enforcement notice.

The offence is one of “strict liability” and it will be no defence for Mr Dill to say he acted reasonably, said the QC.

The court heard the urns had been bought by an “anonymous buyer” and exported from the UK.

And, even if their new owner could be traced, he could not be “compelled” to return them to Idlicote House.

Planners, however, took a firm line, saying that to grant retrospective consent for the urns’ removal would set “an extremely dangerous precedent”.

It was not until 2014 that the council “became aware” that the urns and pedestals had been removed and “began correspondence with Mr Dill.”

He made a retrospective bid for listed building consent to remove them, but the council refused and hit him with the enforcement notice in April 2016.

The inspector’s decision was backed by the High Court last year.

Dismissing Mr Dill’s appeal, Lord Justice Hickinbottom said it was Parliament’s intention that the appearance of even moveable items on the listed buildings register should be decisive.

And Lords Justice McCombe and Coulson agreed with him that the status of the urns and pedestals as listed buildings was beyond question and “could not be challenged”.

Mr Dill was already facing substantial legal costs before his appeal, and the judges added another £6,485 to his bill.