- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

LONDON — Thousands of copies of the new Harry Potter book were stolen from outside a warehouse just days before the latest installment in the popular series was to go on sale around the world, police said yesterday.

The twists and turns in the plot of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth book in J.K. Rowling’s series about a boy wizard, have been guarded with great secrecy by publisher Bloomsbury.

After the theft, police quickly threatened to prosecute anyone caught handling the book before its official release Saturday, and Bloomsbury pleaded for the thieves not to reveal Harry’s secrets.

“We hope that nobody will spoil the excitement for all Harry Potter fans who are looking forward to reading the book,” the publisher said in a statement, which included a reminder that a legal injunction bars publishing any contents or summary of the book before it goes on sale and requires the return of any missing books to the publisher.

Sunday night, the thieves made off with a tractor trailer containing 7,680 copies of “Order of the Phoenix” that was outside the Deacon Trading Estate in Newtown-le-Willows, northern England, where the books awaited distribution.

Police found the truck without the books the next morning about 20 miles from the warehouse. Authorities have made no arrests and have no suspects.

The truckload of books had an estimated retail value $220,000, but advance copies would have a much higher street value.

Police issued a statement warning people that if they “handle the book before Saturday in anything other than a legitimate manner, they could face criminal charges.”

“The van is being forensically examined, and we are appealing for witnesses,” said Caroline Foran, a police spokeswoman.

The release of the book is so hotly anticipated that Internet retailer Amazon.com said it has received more than 1 million advance orders. Hundreds of devotees are expected to line up outside British stores, which are staying open specially for the book’s release shortly after midnight Friday.

The four previous Harry Potter novels have sold more than 190 million copies in 55 languages and 200 countries.

Earlier this month, a court sentenced Donald Parfitt, 44, a printing-plant worker, to 180 hours’ community service for stealing pages from the forthcoming novel he said he found in a parking lot as he left work.

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