Every trick in the bookshop

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There is a most interesting case going on in the High Court, in which a bookshop is suing one of its own customers. More than that, the bookshop is actually suing its customer for not buying a book! It is thought to be the first case of its kind t o comebefore a court ...

Counsel: Your name is Katherine Williard?

Witness: It is.

Counsel: Could you briefly tell us what your work is?

Witness: It is boring, repetitive, badly paid and bereft of any cultural interest.

Counsel: Yes, maybe, but what do you do for a living?

Witness: I run a bookshop.

Judge: If I may intervene ... Counsel: Of course, m'lud.

Judge: I was under the impression that a bookshop was a place of learning and dignity. You make it sound like a factory.

Witness: Oh, a bookshop is a fine place if you are a customer. It's very different if you have to run it.

Judge: But I have spent such civilised afternoons in bookshops, browsing! They are the epitome of civilisation to me.

Witness: You sound like the kind of customer who makes a bookseller's life hell. Always browsing, fingering, asking and complaining, but never buying.

Judge: Hmm. Am I, indeed? I shall try to mend my ways. Carry on.

Counsel: You run, I believe, the Bell, Book and Candle bookshop in a small town in Sussex?

Witness: I do.

Counsel: Could you describe for us the events that took place in your shop on the afternoon of 14 July last?

Witness: Certainly. A woman entered the shop and went to the fiction shelves. A bus passed. The Mozart piano concerto to which I had been listening came to an end ... Judge: If I may intervene again ... Counsel: Certainly, m'lud.

Judge: Is your shop a second-hand bookshop?

Witness: I prefer to call it antiquarian.

Judge: I have noticed that in almost all the antiquarian bookshops I have been into recently, the music of Mozart has been playing. Yet Mozart crops up only rarely on Radio 3 or Classic FM. Do you booksellers all possess tapes of his works?

Witness: No. There is a central antiquarian bookshop music service which pipes out non-stop Mozart to all antiquarian bookshops. We all like Mozart. He is the Sir Walter Scott of the trade.

Judge: In what way?

Witness: He wrote a lot and he is out of copyright.

Judge: Thank you. By the way, you may call me m'lud, if you wish.

Witness: I should not like that at all.

Judge: Bravely spoken! You are a gal with spirit! Carry on.

Counsel: What else happened on that afternoon?

Witness: Another bus passed. The phone rang. It was a wrong number. Someone came in to ask if I had the latest Dick Francis. I told her it wasn't that sort of bookshop.

Counsel: Did you tell her what kind of bookshop it was?

Witness: Yes. I told her it was the kind of bookshop which, if anything, would have the first Dick Francis, not the latest. She went out looking puzzled.

Counsel: I see. What happened next?

Witness: The woman who had been reading at the fiction shelf finally closed her book. She went over to the travel section.

Counsel: Did you say anything to her at this juncture?

Witness: I said: "If you don't get out of here at once, I shall send for the police and have you put out!"

Counsel: Had she committed a crime of any kind?

Witness: In my eyes, yes. She had just finished reading a novel in my shop without paying for it.

Counsel: It seems hard to believe that she could have read a novel in one sitting.

Witness: In one sitting? She had been returning repeatedly over a period of weeks, reading this novel in instalments! She even left a bookmark! Counsel: Did you ever talk to her about it?

Witness: I tried to. I got no response. All she ever said was that she was thinking of going on holiday to Egypt and might well take this book with her.

Counsel: And did she?

Witness: No. She finished the novel in my shop. She then moved to the travel shelves.

Counsel: It was at this point that you threatened to fetch the police?

Witness: Yes.

Counsel: Could you, perhaps, tell the court why?

Witness: Yes. It was because she had taken down a guidebook to Egypt and had started to copy down notes out of it. It was at this point that my nerve snapped.

Judge: And you shot her?

Witness: No, my lord. I sent for the police.

Judge: Pity. Haven't had a good murder trial for yonks. Oh well, Carry on.

The case continues.