A MAN has been jailed for three years and seven months after admitting selling fake artwork he claimed was by Pitman Painter Norman Cornish.

Richard Pearson pocketed £35,000 by convincing a respected art gallery that 14 forgeries in his possession were genuine works by the celebrated Spennymoor artist.

The case is the first of its kind in the North-East, with Northumbria Police working alongside specialist art investigators from the Metropolitan Police to secure the conviction.

Newcastle Crown Court today heard how Pearson, of Thomas Street, Sunderland, claimed to have found the paintings while clearing a deceased relative's attic. He later said he was selling on behalf of a friend.

To back up his story, the 56-year-old forged receipts from the Stone Gallery in Newcastle, an established venue in the 1960s which has since closed.

Mark Giuliani, prosecuting, said Pearson visited the gallery on numerous occasions, earning the trust of its owners and convincing them of his reliability with "lies, lies and more lies."

When the forgeries came to light, he initially denied all charges but later admitted nine counts of fraud, two counts of forgery and two counts of using a false instrument with intent.

The offences occurred between December 2011 and March 2013, prior to Mr Cornish's death in August 2014 at the age of 94.

Members of the artist's family attended the hearing, and his son-in-law, Michael Thornton, described how forgeries undermined confidence in the art market and could potentially harm the artist's reputation.

A statement was also read out by the gallery owner who said he and his business partner had been forced to down-size their premise as a result of the deception.

Paul Currer, for Pearson, said his client had been depressed following the death of his wife in 2009 and regretted his actions.

He said Pearson suffered from serious health problems, including diabetes , which prevented him from working.

"He cared about nothing," said Mr Currer. "He was surviving day-to-day."

His Honourable Judge Bindloss sentenced Pearson to a total of three years and seven months in custody for the offences.

He said: "This was sophisticated offending for a significant period of time, with significant planning involving different types of forged documents to support these lies."

Some of the forgeries had been sold on but all have now been recovered and will be destroyed.

Pearson will also return to court in July when compensation will be awarded to his victims.

After the hearing, Mr Thornton thanked Northumbria Police for bringing the case to court.

"On behalf of the Cornish family, we welcome today's sentence and feel that the outcome should serve as a warning to other forgers and fraudsters," he said.

"The public will also be assured to know that Northumbria and Newcastle Universities are jointly developing a profile of all materials used by Norman Cornish, so that in the future, instrumental analysis can be used to help determine authenticity."

A coal miner for 33 years, Mr Cornish developed his talent at the Pitman's Academy Art School at the Spennymoor Settlement.

Often referred to as the Lowry of the North-East, his images continue to attract great interest across the world.