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Paul Whiting, 71, of Hounslow in west London, pleaded guilty to six counts of theft committed between June and October last year. The pictures stolen included a portrait of Pope Innocent X, valued at £3000-5000, which was stolen during an auction viewing in Kensington. He had then taken it to a west London gallery and sold it for £70.

The theft was uncovered after an employee of the gallery took the painting to be valued at Christie’s on November 1, where it was recognised as a stolen painting.

Working together with the gallery, the police identified 17 further items that Whiting had offered for sale.

Whiting told officers when he was arrested in November he had committed the offences to “make ends meet”.

Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit, said: “Paul Whiting is a prolific and determined thief who stole from international institutions and small businesses alike. We are still working to identify the owners of other seized property.”