An Italian bookseller who stole a signed Harry Potter edition worth £1,675 in a “professional, targeted operation” has avoided jail.
Rudolf Schonegger, 55, snatched the rare copy of Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, signed by author JK Rowling, at Hatchards in Piccadilly, central London, on New Year’s Eve.
CCTV showed him browsing the shop before making an audacious switch with another novel while a staff member had her back turned. A copy of Late Call by Angus Wilson was found in the place of the Potter book.
He was found guilty of theft and two charges of handling stolen goods following a trial at Hendon Magistrates’ Court last week.
During a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, the defendant was given a 26-week custodial sentence for the theft, suspended for 24 months, and four week sentences for each other charge to run concurrently, also suspended for 24 months.
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He was ordered to pay Hatchards £1,675, and booksellers Peter Ellis and Peter Harrington, who bought the stolen goods, a total of £410 for money lost.
Prosecutor Robert Simpson said: “The aggravating factors, it would seem this was a fully professional, targeted operation.
“It is not a random theft, it is a theft of a valuable first edition book.”
Just hours after taking the Potter book, the defendant struck again, stealing a valuable copy of Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy at a pop-up store in Fortnum and Mason on the same road - an offence for which he was separately convicted earlier this year.
He also sold a stolen bound copy of The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway, worth £700, on December 21, and a stolen first edition of Pincher Martin by William Golding, worth £150, on December 21 or 22.
The Hemingway novel disappeared from the same Fortnum and Mason stand where the defendant was convicted of stealing a book on December 31.
It was not suggested the defendant was responsible for stealing The Old Man And The Sea or Pincher Martin.
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Chairman of the bench Paul Brooks told Schonegger: “The judge found that you planned that theft, it was a relatively sophisticated theft and they were of high-value goods.”
The defendant was barred from visiting Hatchards for 24 months, banned from visiting Peter Harrington and told he could not go to Cecil Court in West London.
He must also pay a victim surcharge and prosecution costs.
The trial heard Pincher Martin was first noticed missing from the Hatchards store on the morning of New Year’s Eve, while the Harry Potter book, which had been on display with a sticker stating its four-figure value, vanished by mid-afternoon.
Helen Mills, the second-hand book manager at Hatchards, told the trial she was first alerted to the theft by a colleague who asked if the book had been sold shortly after 3pm.
She told the court: “We had a first edition of Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire on sale for £1,675, all the staff knew about it - it would have been a big thing for us to have sold it.
“It is rare for it to be signed by JK Rowling because she doesn’t sign too many.”
The book has yet to be recovered.
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Schonegger said he had been trying to start a real estate business in the UK since 2016, but was unable to give examples of the work he had been doing and still lives at a hotel in Bayswater, west London.
In mitigation, Harun Matin, defending, said: “It is hard to argue that there wasn’t sophisticated planning and he accepts that.”
He added that the defendant had “learnt his lesson”, saying: “He is someone who has been a successful businessman in the past but he has fallen on hard times.”
Schonegger was arrested after booksellers who had bought his wares in the past recognised him from CCTV images circulated by Hatchards.
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