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Judgment was reserved in Dublin’s High Court on April 29 after a two-day hearing, during which Malletts sought to recover over £111,000 from Rory Rogers – the purchase price of £80,000, plus restoration costs of £31,553.

Malletts’ counsel told the court that following the purchase it transpired the bookcase had been stolen in Northern Ireland in 1990 from a Lord Roden, who lived near Newcastle, County Down.

Malletts, he said, had no alternative but to return the bookcase to him. It was now in the Royal Hospital in Chelsea on loan.

In his defence, Mr Rogers denied responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by Malletts and maintained he acquired the bookcase in good faith and without any doubts being raised about its ownership. After a two-day hearing, Mr Justice Peter Quirke reserved judgement in the case and a decision on Malletts’ claim is not expected for some weeks.

The firm’s chief executive, Lanto Synge, testified that he had travelled to Dublin in January 2000 and was met by Mr Rogers. He had inspected and bought a Queen Anne red lacquered bookcase, which was in very bad condition.

He told the court that in June of the following year, when the bookcase was exhibited at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, Malletts was contacted by Julian Radcliffe, chairman and a director of the Art Loss Register, to say his organisation believed it had been stolen from the home of Lord Roden in Northern Ireland. The item was immediately withdrawn from sale.

Mr Rogers, in his evidence, told how he had contacted Malletts about what he called “this fantastic bookcase”. He subsequently met Mr Synge and took him to the premises of Daly and Eacrett Antiques in Dublin’s Francis Street to inspect the item. They had a discussion about where the bookcase had come from, he said, and were told it came from a house in the west of Ireland and that Mr Daly had collected it.

After some negotiation, they were told it would be sold for not less than £55,000. Mr Rogers said he got the money from the bank the following day and subsequently asked for – and was given – a receipt. He then collected the bookcase and delivered it to Malletts in London and was paid £80,000.

He claimed he had checked the provenance of the piece and had an established relationship with Mr Synge. He described it as “an extremely unusual transaction” as the bookcase did not belong to him.

Sean Eacrett told the court the bookcase was left with his firm in September 1999 by a man who wanted it restored. They asked if it was for sale and went on to buy it. However, before doing so, they brought it to Sotheby’s and asked them to sell it.

In doing that, he believed they had shown “due diligence” over the provenance of the bookcase.