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Mr Crosby has even set up a Website to track down the 22 missing items, and has traced some as far away as New York, Munich and Istanbul.

But he fears many of the items, which date back as far as the 16th century, are gone forever – one Belouch prayer rug was even cut up for cushion covers by an ignorant dealer.

The theft came to light after Mr Crosby, 62, of Forest Row, East Sussex, noticed several pieces from his collection were missing and called in the police after he traced some of the items through shops and auctioneers to collections abroad.

The net quickly closed on Mr Crosby’s cleaner, Laurel Wooten, of Ashurstwood, West Sussex, and on March 19 she appeared at Lewes Crown Court where she admitted the theft.

The court heard how Wooten, 43, stole the rugs as compensation for a “perceived injustice” after she damaged her car in Mr Crosby’s drive and he rejected her request to pay for the damage.

But Wooten failed to profit from her crime: “She had no idea of their value,” said Ann Toynbee, prosecuting. “She thought they were horrible and worn, and sold them for a total of about £1000.”

In fact, the carpets and fragments were valued at between £300 and £9000 apiece, with a total value of £40,000.

Sentencing Wooten to 150 hours of community service, Mr Justice Wright condemned her crimes as “the plainest possible breach of trust”.
“Your attitude was one of greed and simple resentment of the more prosperous circumstances of your employers,” he added. He also ordered her to pay Mr Crosby “token” compensation of £2000.
After the case Mr Crosby said the punishment was “neither here nor there”.

“I want the rugs back, and she has made no effort to do that.”
Mr Crosby, a psychotherapist, said he had been collecting carpets since the 1970s, mainly from India and Afghanistan, and was particularly interested in designs of the Ersari tribe. He had been planning a book on the tribe, but had abandoned it because of the stress caused by the theft. He now no longer keeps his collection at home. But he said he hoped some good would come of the crime – he has already recovered some of the rugs and is negotiating for the return of several more after appealing through carpet magazine Hali and setting up his own Website, which he now hopes to maintain as a loss register for the trade.