A 66-year-old man who faked the signatures of Winston Churchill and other famous writers was sentenced to ten months in jail at Southampton Crown Court on December 21.
Allan Formhals, from Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, had been convicted at the same crown court on October 25 of eight offences of fraud, but was cleared on three counts. Three other offences were left to lie on file.
In January 2011 Met Police officers were alerted to a number of Churchill books and memorabilia, supposedly carrying his signature, being offered for sale. Working with the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association (ABA), they identified the signatures as forgeries.
On February 3, 2011, Formhals was arrested at his home and a large quantity of books were recovered, bearing forged signatures of a number of authors including Churchill, T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley and Robert Louis Stevenson. In addition, autograph books bearing thousands of 'practice' signatures were recovered, together with a calligraphy pen and ink.
The investigation revealed that Formhals had been purchasing large quantities of unsigned books for just a few pounds before selling them on as 'signed', for several hundred pounds each. He would offer a signed book for sale on eBay before building up a relationship with the buyer and then continuing to sell large quantities of books and memorabilia to the unsuspecting victims.
ABA member Pom Harrington provided essential evidence in court, and ABA president Laurence Worms said the tough sentence handed down to the former Hampshire antiques dealer "represents a major breakthrough in the fight against internet auction fraud". He added that law enforcement agencies around the world "have previously found it difficult to secure convictions in this field".