A BRITISH Army deserter and Escape To The Chateau: DIY star has been found guilty of stealing artefacts from French churches to sell in the UK.
Greenwich man Billy Petherick, 34, was convicted alongside his wife at Rennes criminal court in Brittany, northwest France on Monday.
Both Petherick and his French wife Gwendoline, 37, were found guilty of carrying out 40 thefts in 2014 at various places of worship around Brittany and other parts of northwest France.
Sacred chalices, tabernacle keys, and anything else left unguarded were taken before being sold on.
Prosecuting papers stated: “Some forty thefts were committed in 2014 alone.
“Petherick would enter the rural churches, which were often left unguarded.”
Up to 76 of the items stolen from the Roman Catholic Church were never returned, which it was alleged indicated they were sold on.
The couple share a YouTube channel with more than 360,000 subscribers and an Instagram page with some 100,000 followers.
Their profiles, under the name “The Pethericks”, feature hundreds of videos chronicling their renovations of various French properties.
It was the broadcast of one such renovation – of the couple’s £890,000 French chateau – on a Channel 4 program in 2018 that led to Petherick’s conviction for deserting the Household Calvary.
On the show, he said: “I moved over here [to France] about six years ago. My parents were already living here and I thought I would give it a try.
“It is a bit of a fancy, living in a chateau… it’s always been a bit of a dream.’
His theft crime spree began when he went absent without leave in 2009 to begin a “changed” life in France.
He is said to have stolen the religious items – from chalices and ciboriums to patens and tabernacle keys – in the UK via Ebay, or a family friend who was also a dealer.
Petherick married Gwendoline and purchased a 40-room 18th-century mansion in the Mayenne area of northwest France using a bequest from a late relative, before appearing on the first series of Channel 4’s Escape To the Chateau: DIY in 2018.
Together, the couple transformed the rotting Chateau de la Basmaignee in the Loire Valley – which has its own lake and historic ties to Louis XIV – into a bed and breakfast.
The Channel 4 show was a spin-off of hit series Escape To the Chateau series featuring Dick Strawbridge and his wife Angel.
It allowed the Army to pinpoint Petherick’s exact address.
In 2021, Petherick pleaded guilty to one charge of desertion in Bulford Military Court, Wilshire and was dismissed from the military but avoided a jail sentence.
Prosecutor Captain Daniel Lawlor told the court that Petherick’s stepsister died in 2009 and that he was bullied by his colleagues.
The most recent of the 580 videos posted to the Pethericks’ YouTube channel was shared less than one day ago, and indicates Petherick and his brother Michael own another abandoned convent, Monastère de la Visitation in La Flêche, which they are also renovating.
In court on Monday, Petherick’s lawyers blamed his thefts on “immaturity”, while his wife denied any wrongdoing.
Petherick was sentenced to a year in prison and a fine equivalent to £12,800. Gwendoline was fined the equivalent of £7,000.