A MANSION owner who removed and sold two 18th Century urns from the grounds of his listed home faces could face jail, top judge's have heard.

The 18th Century urns graced Marcus Dill's seven-bedroom home, Idlicote House, in Shipston-on-Stour, before he sold them at auction in 2009.

The work of Flemish sculptor, John van Nost, Mr Dill didn't realise until six years later that they and their limestone pedestals were listed.

The urns were sold to an "anonymous buyer" and had been exported from the UK - which could mean Mr Dill would have to scour the globe to get them back.

And even if their new owner could be tracked down, they could not be "compelled" to return them to Idlicote House.

Despite this Stratford-on-Avon District Council clamped down and demanded he find the urns and restore them to the grounds of his home. The council hit him with a planning enforcement notice and that was upheld by a High Court judge last year.

Now Mr Dill has taken his battle to the Court of Appeal, insisting the urns are not 'buildings' and should never have been listed in the first place.

His barrister, Richard Harwood QC, said the consequences of the planning row could be "very serious" for Mr Dill.

If he fails to track down the urns and return them, he could be fined or even jailed if convicted of breaching the enforcement notice. The offence is one of "strict liability" and it will be no defence for Mr Dill to say he acted reasonably, three senior judges were told.

Planners have, however, taken a firm line, arguing that to grant retrospective consent for the urns' removal would set "an extremely dangerous precedent".

It could "potentially endanger the preservation of innumerable other designated heritage assets," said a government planning inspector.

Mr Harwood said the urns dated to about 1700 and were made for the Duke of Kent's estate at Wrest Park, in Bedfordshire.

They later passed into Mr Dill's family - his great-great grandfather once owned Wrest Park - and his ancestors took them with them whenever they moved.

His father brought them to Idlicote House in the early 1970s and they and their pedestals were listed in 1986.

Mr Dill was unaware of the listing when he sold them at auction for £55,000, the court heard.

Stratford-on-Avon District Council says the removal of the urns and pedestals "equated to demolition" and that "substantial harm had been caused".

The enforcement notice was later confirmed by a planning inspector, who pointed out that all sorts of structures - from telephone and post boxes to shipyard cranes, as well as "sculpture or statuary" - are on the listed buildings register.

Mr Dill's Appeal Court challenge now hinges on whether the urns and pedestals were "buildings" that were capable of being listed.

Lords Justice McCombe, Hickinbottom and Coulson are expected to reserve judgment on his appeal and give their ruling at a later date.