The allure of the Harry Potter fortune turned a "decent, hard-working" employee into an impulsive thief who was now a "broken man", a court was told yesterday.
Donald Parfitt stole unpublished pages from the latest of J K Rowling's phenomenally successful books and tried to sell them to a newspaper for £25,000 but was trapped when the police were called in.
He admitted theft of the first three chapters of Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix from the printing firm where he worked as a forklift truck driver. The 44-year-old said he found the pages in the car park and put them in his lunchbox in an opportunistic crime. As he left court, his sentence adjourned until 4 June, Parfitt said: "I deeply regret what I have done."
Rowling's fifth novel on the orphan wizard, due to be published on 21 June, promises to be the longest children's book in existence, 225,000 words in 38 chapters. Eagerly awaited, it has been the subject of almost unprecedented security.
Magistrates at Lowestoft, Suffolk, were told that Parfitt worked at Clays in Bungay, where it was being printed. "He had a normal day's work at Clays. He came out of work and was waiting for a lift. On the floor in the car park was this item, some chapters from the new book," said Richard Mann, for the defence.
"At that point he should have given them back but he didn't. There was lots of talk about papers offering money for the new book and he saw this as an opportunity. He reacted in an instinctive, opportunistic way. He immediately put it into his lunchbox.
"He saw it at that point as good luck. It turned out to be very bad luck."
Mr Mann said other people then became involved and approaches were made to The Sun. A man called James telephoned the tabloid newspaper on 5 May, offering to sell the first three chapters of the book for £25,000. After a series of calls and an aborted meeting, reporters arranged a late-night rendezvous at the Safeway car park in Beccles, Suffolk, having alerted the police. Parfitt, from nearby Worlingham, was subsequently arrested.
"This is a man who is very contrite and very apologetic and extremely ashamed for his actions. His background is unremarkable. He lives with his partner and son and enjoys DIY as a hobby," Mr Mann said.
"He is a decent, hard-working man who loved his job. He is very shy and certainly doesn't like the limelight. He desperately wishes this whole thing had not occurred at all."
Describing Parfitt's actions as "stupid and opportunistic", Mr Mann added: "He is very much a broken man."
Two 16-year-old boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted receiving stolen property. Both live near Beccles. Their case was adjourned to a later date. Garry Cox, 18, of Harleston, Norfolk, denied receiving stolen goods. His case was also adjourned.