Ref. 23103-22RAIDERS have hit the former home of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

In a meticulously-planned operation, villains made off with a haul of priceless antiques from the country pile in Sevenhampton, near Highworth.

The gang bypassed a high-tech security system installed by current owner millionaire Paddy McNally and carried out the raid in silence.

Access was gained in the dead of night by removing heavy steel bars from the drawing room windows at Warneford Place.

These were dropped into a lake and no one on the site was woken.

An alarm eventually alerted Swindon police, but by the time officers arrived 20 minutes later, property worth thousands of pounds had been swiped.

Intruders used a fireside peat basket to carry antique silverware, porcelain and clocks to a waiting van.

Mr McNally who dated the Duchess of York before she married Prince Andrew was in Geneva at the time of the break-in.

He flew home the next day.

Speaking to a national newspaper, he praised the police, saying they had been extremely thorough.

"They (the thieves) didn't take nearly as much as they could have because the police arrived so soon," he added.

"At least no one was hurt. There was no confrontation between the men and my staff, thank goodness. Possessions can be replaced, people can't."

Security measures at the house have since been boosted.

Sevenhampton is a close-knit village comprising less than 40 houses.

Resident Mary Sainsbury, who set up Neighbourhood Watch 15 years ago, said strangers in the area are easily spotted.

"But Paddy McNally's house is about half a mile outside the village. People don't know him and never see him," she said.

"He keeps himself to himself. He could be anyone living in that house."

Rupert Burr, owner of Roves Farm in Sevenhampton, said he spotted a suspicious car with four occupants at about 7pm on the evening of the theft.

Mr Burr, 49, said: "No one heard anything on the night but I did spot a red estate car parked in a gateway leading to one of the fields.

"There were four men inside. It could have been nothing at all but just the way it was parked there made me take down the number plate anyway. The police told me it was a false number plate.

"Paddy's a nice bloke. It's sad that this sort of thing happens but people can get in anywhere now.

"Persistent offenders should have their hands cut off like they do out in Saudi. It's too softly, softly here."

Swindon police confirmed they are investigating the incident, which happened on Wednesday, June 16.

Mr McNally who made his fortune selling advertising for Formula One bought the £7-million Grade II listed house in 1987. The 18th Century property is set in 24 acres with a large lake, swimming pool, tennis courts, stable block and paddocks.

It was largely re-built by Fleming, who bought it in 1960.

Fleming and his wife Ann already had a property in Jamaica, but came to regard Sevenhampton as their true home.

He died in 1964 at the age of 56, and is buried in the parish churchyard with Ann and his son Caspar.

Anyone with information about the raid should call Swindon police on 01793 528111.

Still friends with Fergie

Paddy McNally started his career as a reporter for Autosport magazine.

He soon quit to work in the commercial side of motor sport, handling sponsorship deals and advertising.

The 65-year-old father-of-two runs his own company, Allsport Management, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and owns several properties in the Sevenhampton area.

His romance with Sarah Ferguson, now the Duchess of York, began while she was living in a luxury ski resort in Switzerland.

The widower, whose wife died from cancer in 1980, is still close friends with Fergie.