Dealer Denies Faking Famous Signatures

A court's been told an antiques dealer duped unsuspecting collectors by forging the signatures in books of famous writers like Sir Winston Churchill and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Allan Formhals found the books and magazines in car boot sales and a recycling centre, added the signature and then sold them on eBay as the real thing, Southampton Crown Court heard.

He made thousands of pounds defrauding collectors from as far afield as Texas in the US after also lying about the provenance of the items, the court was told.

Police found the forged signatures of Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette among others when his home was searched, prosecutors said.

The 66-year-old is accused of selling 68 items bearing Churchill's alleged false signature at a cost of £10,000 to one collector, Kim Taylor-Smith.

He claimed in emails they came from the home of famous Second World War fighter ace Squadron Leader Neville Duke, who lived near him in Milford-on-sea, Hampshire, and was a friend of Churchill who had died in 2007, Simon Edwards, prosecuting, told the jury.

Formhals, who denies 15 counts of fraud from 2009 to 2011, told Mr Taylor-Smith and others that he got the books from the house of Sqn Ldr Duke via an ''old couple'' who used to clean for him.

''What we say is that the defendant acquired books by famous authors, he forged a signature inside the book, usually that of the author or authoress, and sold them as the genuine article - it's as simple as that,'' Mr Edwards told the jury.

''You will hear that in some instances he invented stories to tell the hapless buyer to boost what is known in the trade as the provenance, or history, of the book.

''The buyers were fooled into thinking what they were buying was the real thing signed by the authors or authoress and, needless to say, the price they paid for the books was enhanced by the presence of the author's signature in the book.''

In November 2010, Mr Taylor-Smith, who had been ''hooked'' by Formhals's email explanations and merchandise, had some of his items examined by an expert in Churchill books called Pom Harrington.

''A number of items were left with him overnight. He called Mr Taylor-Smith the next day with the ghastly news that each and every Churchill signature was a fake,'' Mr Edwards told the court.

Mr Taylor-Smith immediately called Formhals for a refund and was told the ''old couple'' he had got the books from had moved and he was trying to track them down.

Mr Taylor-Smith then received an email in February 2011 from Formhals's son saying his father was very ill and would not be in contact with the old couple.

The jury heard that others including Texan Basel Boatright bought Churchill books with alleged fake signatures for around #2,500 during 2009 and 2010 all purporting to be from the home of Sqn Ldr Duke.

Formhals also offered for sale bound volumes of the Christian Science Monitor, apparently signed by Churchill.

Another alleged victim, Corinna Honan, bought autographed copies of Island Nights' Entertainments and Ballads by Robert Louis Stevenson for about £300.

She then paid him for more signed books by Joseph Conrad, Douglas Grant and Pablo Picasso for a further £967. All were fake signatures, Mr Edwards said.

After Formhals was arrested in February last year his home was searched.

''The search revealed a huge amount of material including a number of autograph books and papers containing forged signatures ranging from Winston Churchill to JRR Tolkien and Elizabeth I to Marie Antoinette,'' Mr Edwards said.

''There were books with forged signatures of the authors Aldous Huxley, Robert Louis Stevenson, CS Lewis, Virginia Woolf and George Orwell. None were genuine, needless to say.

''There was a calligraphy pen and a bottle of chestnut brown ink found among the papers and books,'' the barrister told the jury.

Formhals had got the Christian Science Monitor from the Efford Recycling Centre in Lymington, Hampshire, before Christmas 2010 and it did not have any Churchill signature on it, the court heard.

''When they were later discovered at Mr Formhals's home during the police search they had miraculously acquired the apparent signature of Winston Churchill,'' Mr Edwards said.

When interviewed, Formhals told officers he got the books from Wimborne and Matchams car boot sales in Dorset and he denied being responsible for the signatures.

He said a couple called Rita and Terry would buy items for him and sell them on, and the jury would hear evidence that Formhals specifically asked them to find books by Churchill printed when he was alive.

''This, of course, was necessary: if they were published after his death then they could not bear his genuine signature could they?'' Mr Edwards said.

''He said he was not an expert on books and advertised them as signed, as opposed to signed by. He believed them to be genuine but he did not advertise them for sale as such or guarantee them as such,'' the barrister went on.

He then told police he got the Churchill books from the old couple called Ann and Alan, who had cleaned for Sqn Ldr Duke.

In later prepared statements he called the old couple Pat and Alex, the court heard.

The trial is expected to last 12 days.