Magistrates in Richmond, North Yorkshire, heard evidence from the brothers who were accused of selling furniture bearing a mouse trademark to auctioneers, who in turn sold it to collectors. The brothers said they had been deceived themselves and had bought the items at markets and auction houses in Bournemouth, not knowing they were fakes.
The case of the counterfeit mice came before the magistrates because North Yorkshire County Council's Trading Standards Office was called in to investigate the sale of octagonal tables, coffee tables and bookends bearing the carved wooden mouse.
The mouse is the trademark of Mouseman furniture, handmade by 35 craftsmen on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales at Kilburn, near Thirsk. The mouse was first put on to church furniture by a craftsman who, it is said, thought himself as poor as a church mouse. It has remained ever since as a hallmark on each piece of furniture made by the family firm, Robert Thompson Craftsmen Limited.
However, the company discovered some very good copies of its work were being sold in auction houses. Collectors were paying hundreds of pounds for these 'Mouseman' pieces on the strength of seeing the tiny carved mouse. One paid out nearly pounds 500 for two items and another spent pounds 270 on a coffee table, the court was told.
Yesterday Peter and David Bielby, aged 25 and 31, from Thirsk, pleaded guilty to 20 charges relating to breaches of the Trade Descriptions Act and to selling goods bearing a registered trademark. They did not, however, agree that they had made the fakes.
Peter Bielby said he had once worked as a joiner for Mouseman but had moved to Bournemouth and begun collecting tables. He bought items bearing the carved mouse mark, he said, but obtained no receipts.
Gordon Gresty, for the prosecution, said the items were very good copies and could have caused 'considerable and probably irreparable' damage to the company. The brothers had sold pounds 2,948 of furniture.
Alan Meeham, representing the brothers, said they had been deceived. They had presented the items at the auction houses in good faith. It needed a very trained eye to spot the genuine article.
The magistrates, however, decided that the mice did not come from Bournemouth but were carved only a few miles from those of the genuine firm.
The brothers now face the prospect of a civil action being brought by the company, which claims damages of up to pounds 30,000. The fake furniture will go to a charitable trust for disabled people near Whitby. But first the mice will be chiselled off.
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