Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'Magpie' Hoarded Stolen Nature Books; Police Seize Hundreds of Volumes

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'Magpie' Hoarded Stolen Nature Books; Police Seize Hundreds of Volumes

Article excerpt

Byline: Ben Guy

A NATURE lover caught stealing valuable books from a Northumberland shop was found to have thousands of pounds of other stolen books at his home.

Alan Hunter Birchall, 43, of Storey Crescent, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, and his wife Heather, 42, were caught on CCTV taking 11 books from Barter Books in Alnwick last January.

The couple returned to the store several weeks later and staff recognised them, noted the registration number of the Peugeot car and police visited their home.

There they found hundreds more books worth more than pounds 4,000 belonging both to the book store and Northumberland County Council library.

Alan Birchall was charged with one theft and two offences of handling stolen goods. His wife was charged with theft.

Stuart Michie, prosecuting, said: "The story starts at Barter books, where over a period of time a number of books had been going missing from the natural history section.

"They started a feeding operation where they put identifiable books in the section and then later carried out an audit of those books.

"On the 24th of January they found that a book about wildlife and game, worth pounds 46, had gone missing."

Camera footage showed the couple in the shop putting books under their clothing and walking out without paying. Staff were given prints of stills from the CCTV and were able to recognise the couple when they returned to the store on February 8.

Officers then visited the Birchalls' home and recovered the books.

Mr Michie said: "The house was unusual in that all around there were displays of stuffed birds and a large collection of books - 434 in total - all of which were seized."

When the books were examined, more than 50, worth pounds 1,156, were found to belong to Northumberland County Council and about 200 from Barter Books that were worth pounds 3,107.

Mr Michie said Alan Birchall was seen as the prime mover in the criminal activity.

He said: "He gave no explanation as to how he came by all the other books. …

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