No moral to the story as ‘looters’ target children’s publishing fair

One publisher has nearly three-quarters of its titles stolen at the industry's leading event in Italy

It is a literary genre renowned for its simple morals and admirable heroes and heroines.

However, adult enthusiasts of children's literature have forgotten their manners, it would seem.

British publishers have expressed outrage at what they describe as the widespread "looting" from their stands by people attending the world's leading children's book exhibition.

Michael O'Mara Books, an independent publisher, found nearly three-quarters of its titles had vanished.

Its staff took the titles to Italy for the Bologna Children's Book Fair to sell the rights to publishers worldwide – only to find themselves left without the tools of their trade.

Mauro Spagnol, senior foreign rights manager for the publisher, told The Independent that up to 70 of 100 titles were stolen from his stand, with neighbouring stands suffering similar thefts.

"It's shocking... stealing and looting are not acceptable," he said. Meeting fellow publishers without having books to show them made it extremely difficult to conduct business.

It was particularly frustrating because children's books are full of colourful illustrations and rely on visual impact. The titles, priced at £5 to £10, ranged from fairytale titles to doodling books.

This year's Bologna exhibition, held from March 19 to 22, drew 1,200 exhibitors from 66 countries and 5,000 trade representatives.

Michael O'Mara Books is among the publishers who have sent an angry letter of complaint to organisers.

It begins: "We find it unacceptable that an international trade fair is unable to provide adequate security to prevent books and presentation materials being stolen from exhibitors' stands before, during and after the fair."

The letter, whose co-signatories include Bath-based North Parade Publishing, says the problem occurs each year. But it continues: "It has become more and more evident recently and it is now widespread.

"We found some titles and various items were gone on Monday morning even before the fair was opened."

Mr Spagnol said he saw two women "nicking left, right and centre" from a nearby stand. "I stopped them," he said. "I screamed."

The letter calls for bag searches, like those at the Frankfurt Book Fair, or restrictions on public visitors, as happens in London.

Roberta Chinni, head of the Bologna fair, confirmed to The Independent: "Some thefts happened while booths were unattended and the fair was still open to visitors. This is not an excuse. We will work to improve the situation."