Twenty Years Ago Today: Naval Lovers Sentenced for Stealing Ship Funds

HMS Invincible. Who knew that such a fine, upstanding vessel could harbour such criminality? Twenty years ago today, two petty officers from the HMS Invincible were sentenced for stealing £11,303 in cash from the ship and then deserting their posts for a spending spree in Greece and Spain. Petty Officers Sylvia Panter and Ian Luff had fallen in love while serving together, despite the fact that both of them were married to other people.

The two had bonded after Panter was assigned to the Invincible, her first shipboard posting after nine years of service. She was given only three day's notice of her assignment to the post of ward fund cashier, for which she had no training. Luff, who was old enough to have survived the destruction of the HMS Coventry during the 1982 Falklands War, took her under his wing as her 'sea-daddy' (which is actually a time-honoured tradition within the RN - an older sailor mentoring a younger one is something that even Horatio Nelson benefited from).

But Panter still couldn't cope, and the pair grew closer. While the ship was moored at Corfu, she went to pieces after being denied shore leave for turning up late to duty. Eventually, fearing that she would follow through on her threats of suicide, Luff accompanied her as they fled the ship with the contents of the safe, and headed out into Greece and then Spain. But once they'd spent about £2,000 on clothes, drink and hotels, they realised just how much trouble they were in and came to their senses. They gave themselves up in Barcelona, along with the remainder of the cash - though not before selling their story to The Sun for £10,000.

Panter was sentenced to 18 months in a civilian jail, while Luff received 15 months of the same. Both were dismissed from the Navy and lost their good conduct medals. Luff managed to stay out of the papers after that, but Panter was 'uncovered' as a former criminal in 2006, when various newspapers expressed disgust that she was in a senior NHS job at a trust that just happened to be run by her husband. This is, of course, rather shocking, but it's worth remembering that one of the newspapers uncovering this particular scandal was The Sun, which had happily thrown money at Panter twelve years earlier. It's almost as if there wasn't enough hypocrisy to go around...

Twenty Years Ago Today: Lillehammer Screaming

Remember the days when Olympic logos were vaguely sensible? Twenty years ago, it was a bit of a hectic day in Norway. Up in Lillehammer, a town of about 25,000 people, the Winter Olympics began with the usual lavish two hour opening ceremony. The games would go on for the next two weeks and feature every kind of sport that requires some kind of low-friction, low-temperature surface to generate hilarious pratfalls. Sadly for this blog post, this was not the Olympics of Cool Runnings, nor was it the hour for Eddie the Eagle to make his mark on the world. The biggest drama on ice or snow was probably the ongoing controversy surrounding the US skater Tonya Harding, which we've already covered in more than enough detail.

But back in Oslo, the capital of Norway, dirty work was afoot. Thieves broke into the National Gallery and made off with one of the four versions of Edvard Munch's world renowned painting The Scream (or Skrik in Norwegian). They left a note of thanks for the poor security; the painting had been moved as part of an exhibition celebrating the Olympics, and wasn't being kept quite as safely as usual. A ransom demand for $1m was sent by the culprits in March, but the Norwegian government said no. Since Austin Powers had not yet been made, no one was able to make an ironic reference to this at the time. I shall now rectify this oversight:

One Million Dollars

The painting was eventually recovered safe and sound, after a bit of creative skulduggery from the Metropolitan Police (because apparently the Norwegians just aren't as devious as we are - bless). The sordid tale is told in this little documentary snippet:

This was not the last time that one of the four Scream paintings would be stolen; another went walkies from the Munch Museum (also in Oslo) in 2004, before being recovered in 2006. Art theft is, of course, a very serious issue, although one that presents a major problem for the thieves as a painting expensive enough to really be worth stealing is probably too well known to be sold on even the black market. The most recent sale of one of the versions of The Scream netted $120m. Even Dr. Evil would be impressed by that.


(I haven't mentioned the actual painting itself all that much - here's a BBC documentary if you want to know more about why the hell we all have this image imprinted on our brains).

UPDATE: Hey, the BBC thinks this is an interesting story too! The BBC News website has a little piece on it, interviewing one of the detectives who helped recover the painting. Fun stuff.