Police drop theft charge against art dealer

Court House-Sept-2013-06Police have withdrawn a theft charge against a Christchurch art dealer, saying there was not enough evidence to continue with the prosecution.

They say that if an artist involved wished to continue with his action against the dealer, he would need to make a civil claim.

At the police request, Christchurch District Court Judge David Holderness today withdrew the charge of theft by a person in a special relationship against 66-year-old Donald William Cornes.

The case had been due for a two-day defended hearing before a judge-alone, beginning today, but the withdrawal stopped that session at the last minute.

The trial was going to involve five paintings by award-winning Taranaki artist John McLean.

An earlier report had referred to four of the paintings having a value of at least $75,000.

Cornes was arrested in July 2012, and since then the case has had 13 pre-trial hearings.

Defence counsel Kerry Cook asked for the judge to dismiss the charge rather than give leave for its withdrawal, but Judge Holderness opted to grant the withdrawal after hearing discussion from the police.

Prosecutor Stephen Burdes told the court he had assessed the file and found that the prosecution relied on an oral contract between the artist and dealer.

After reviewing the details of the oral contract and the other documentary evidence, he had assessed that there was not sufficient evidence to proceed.

“It is open for the complainant to pursue a civil remedy,” he said.

Mr Cook said the defence did not only rely on the terms of the contract, but would have addressed substantive issues as well.

Cornes remains before the court on a charge of fraud relating to an insurance claim totalling $18,250 on a painting. He plans to defend that charge and he was remanded on bail to a pre-hearing conference on September 26.

Details of the discussion in court today relating to the fraud charge were suppressed.

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