Bookshop burglary foiled after prosecco distracts raiders

Alison Flood
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Things went flat for two burglars who broke into London bookshop Gay’s the Word, after police caught them quaffing prosecco in the shop’s basement.

Front and back windows at Gay’s the Word, which became the UK’s first gay bookshop when it was opened in 1979 and which featured in the film Pride, were smashed last Sunday. But after ransacking the shop and drinking a bottle of tequila left on the premises after a member of staff’s birthday, the burglars were caught by police in the store’s kitchen drinking prosecco. They were subsequently sentenced: one man was jailed for six months; the second given 16 weeks, suspended for 12 months.

“They had been there for some time,” said bookseller Uli Lenart. “I think they were looking for cash, but when they didn’t find any, they started bringing up computer equipment from the basement. As I went through the shop afterwards, I found an empty bottle of tequila, and an open bottle of prosecco on the kitchen table downstairs. They seemed to have been boozing up mid-burglary, which probably wasn’t the most prudent thing to do.”

Lenart said a member of the public had heard the window being smashed, and had called the police. “[The burglars] got distracted by the booze and were here when the police arrived,” he said. “It puts me in mind of a Joe Orton play.”

No books were taken, said Lenart, with the thieves only taking money from the box on the counter where they had been collecting for the LGBT+ youth charity Mosaic. The shop reopened on Monday and was quickly repaired. “We’ve been at the broken windows rodeo before,” Lenart added – the store has been the target of homophobic attacks in the past, the latest of which took place in 2018.

At a book launch on Thursday for Sophie Ward’s debut novel, Love and Other Thought Experiments, customers were informed about the break-in. “We explained we were resilient about the whole thing,” said Lenart, “but that we were sad about the money for charity – and we received so many donations we’ve got far more money for Mosaic now than we had before. The positive community response has been wonderful. Customers turning up with bunches of flowers, people dropping off bottles of prosecco, publishers sending us free books and boxes of chocolates. We’ve felt really held and supported, and we’ve found that deeply touching.”