- Billy Petherick, from Greenwich, along with his French wife Gwendoline, was found guilty on Monday at the criminal court of Rennes, local reports said
Billy Petherick, originally from Greenwich, and his French wife Gwendoline were found guilty on Monday at the criminal court of Rennes over the 2014 thefts in Brittany and Anjou, according to French newspaper Le Parisien.
The court found that Mr Petherick would enter churches and swipe objects such as chalices, ciboriums, patens or tabernacle keys and sell them back in the UK via Ebay, or to an old friend of the family who was a second-hand dealer in Retiers.
Mr Petherick and Gwendoline Mouchel are two of the hosts of a popular YouTube channel, ‘The Pethericks’, where the couple chronicle their adventures renovating properties in France to their 360,000 subscribers.
But Mr Petherick also hit the headlines in 2021 when it was revealed that he deserted the Household Calvary a decade earlier, and was only caught after he appeared on Channel 4 renovating the couple’s £890,000 French chateau.
It was reported at the time that Mr Petherick, believed to be 36, went absent without leave in 2009 before starting a new life in France.
Once there, he married a local woman – Gwendoline – and purchased and restored the 40-room 18th century mansion in the Mayenne area of North West France.
But the past caught up with him when he featured on the first series of Channel 4’s Escape To The Chateau: DIY, a spin-off from the long-running Escape To The Chateau series featuring Dick Strawbridge and his wife Angel.
When the programme was broadcast in 2018 the Army was finally able to pinpoint Petherick’s exact address – the Chateau de la Basmaignee in the Pays de la Loire, which boasts royal ties to Louis XIV and has its own lake.
In 2021, Bulford Military Court in Wiltshire was told that Petherick had deserted the Household Cavalry, which guards the Queen, in 2009 and never returned.
Captain Daniel Lawlor, prosecuting, said Petherick’s stepsister had died that year and he had been bullied by colleagues as a result.
The court heard Petherick fled to start a ‘changed’ life in France, where his parents lived. He fell in love with and married Gwendoline.
When the couple bought the chateau in 2016, using a bequest from Mrs Petherick’s late mother, it had no electricity, no running water and 90 rotten windows.
Along with his brother Michael, Petherick set about doing it up, creating their own bed and breakfast business in the process.
The venue also caters to weddings and other events, according to online sources.
Over time, they were able to build up their business while also earning funds from their YouTube channel – which became increasingly popular – and artwork, which they have then invested back into their projects.
According to their YouTube channel, the Petherick brothers have also purchased an abandoned convent – Monastère de la Visitation in La Flêche.
They are also renovating the building, posting videos such as one titled ‘we risked our life savings on an abandoned convent’ showing the process, and others such as ‘finding buried relics at the convent’.
However, Billy Petherick and Gwendoline appeared in court on Monday to answer for around 40 thefts committed in 2014, mostly in Brittany and Anjou.
According to their story, Petherick was interested in ‘the architecture’ of churches, while his partner had ‘little time’ to see him.
They therefore took ‘car rides’ together, during which Petherick would enter buildings he was interested in. However, prosecutors made the case that once inside, he would steal objects and sell them on.
Gwendoline said she was ‘unaware’ of the thefts, the court heard, and that during this time she would be playing on her phone or writing her dissertation.
According to Le Parisien, the court heard that she told investigators that when she heard about Petherick’s actions, she was ‘not shocked’ because he ‘did not have a high opinion of the Church’.
A lawyer representing the diocese of Rennes criticised the loss of the objects, saying they ‘were all used for worship’. He demanded a symbolic sum of 2,000 euros from the court for the ‘time spent’ dealing with the thefts and to reimburse the losses.
The diocese also said it held the couple responsible for a ‘loss of attractiveness’ of churches, saying they had to limit their opening hours and install cameras.
The prosecutor did say that 72 or the 76 objects taken were returned.
Everything that could be returned to the churches was ‘given to the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs,’ they said.
In the couple’s defence, the YouTuber’s lawyer said the couple have not committed any further acts, and their criminal records were otherwise clean.
She therefore put Petherick’s actions down to ‘immaturity’, pointing to the fact that he ‘did not manage to keep up with the royal guards in England.’
Petherick was ultimately sentenced to one year in prison and a 15,000 euro fine, while Gwendoline was fined 10,000 euros.
The second-hand dealer was fined 8,000 euros, Le Parisien reported.
At his desertion trial in 2021, the court heard that in 2014 French authorities were contacted to locate him, and three years later an arrest warrant was issued.
After finally establishing his whereabouts in 2018, a British Army official approached Petherick and persuaded him to return to Britain, the court heard.
In August 2021, Petherick returned to the UK and was arrested.
The reason for the delay in his return is unclear. He appeared at Portsmouth Magistrates Court the following month charged with going AWOL.
Captain Lawlor said at the time that Petherick was AWOL from July 2, 2009 to September 21, 2021 – and that the Brit ‘intended to remain absent without leave’.
‘After his absence of 12 years, his unit has no intention for him to return,’ Captain Lawlor said. Petherick pleaded guilty to one charge of desertion and was dismissed from the military, but avoided a jail sentence.
Sentencing the former soldier, Judge Advocate Robert Hill said in 2021: ‘You have no interest in the Army and the Army has no interest in having you back.’
Chateau de la Basmaignee was described on the Channel 4 programme as having six floors and 22 bedrooms.
It boasts more than 60 acres of parkland with a picturesque forest, a tennis court, a private chapel and a separate building which once housed servants.
The chateau was named after the Basmaignee family, who were advisers to Louis XIV, who ruled France from 1643 until his death in 1715.
In the show, Petherick says: ‘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.’