A club night promoter from Morecambe has been found not guilty of stealing an iconic venue sign.
Robert Denwood auctioned The Carleton sign for charity after promoting a rave night at the seafront club.
But nightclub owner Ian Bond claimed he had taken the sign without permission.
After a trial at Lancaster Magistrates Court on Friday, Mr Denwood, 38, was cleared of theft.
The chief magistrate said “we believe you to have been given permission to take the sign and that you firmly believed to have had that permission”.
Mr Denwood, of Alexandra Road, held the auction through social media after the ‘Final Farewell’ night at the club in January 2016. He raised £322 for St John’s Hospice.
Prosecuting, Peter Bardsley said Mr Denwood was accused of taking the sign without permission from the nightclub’s owner, Robert Ian Bond.
Property developer Mr Bond had taken over the club in October 2015 and then leased it to Mr Denwood to hold a finale event before it closed to be redeveloped as flats.
Mr Bond told the court that he had given permission for Mr Denwood to take one of the signs from a bar on the premises, but not the main Carleton sign which once adorned the front of the building.
He said he had been approached by Mr Denwood shortly after buying the nightclub with the idea of holding an event to mark the end of the Carleton.
After agreeing to the idea, he gave Mr Denwood the keys in order for him to prepare the premises for the event, which was to be held on January 30 2016.
Mr Bond would receive an advance payment as well as the bar takings from the night.
He said he was due to start building work on the site the following week.
“I made it clear that my plan was to restore the building with a theme of the Alhambra and Carleton clubs,” he said.
“I said everything needed to be maintained.”
However, after the event, Mr Bond said he saw an article in The Visitor which outlined Mr Denwood’s plan to auction the Carleton sign off for charity and contacted the police.
The auction was won by Sarah Sullivan with a bid of £322, which was donated to St John’s Hospice.
However, the sign was later seized from her house by police and the cheque was never cashed by the hospice.
“The sign was a really important part of the history of the building,” Mr Bond said.
“In terms of history I believed it to be worth up to £1,000, although the elements of the sign itself are of little value.
“When I saw the sign had been found and cleaned I thought it would be a wonderful thing to be put in the entrance of the building if it was converted into flats.
“At no stage did I give anyone permission to take the sign. There was no agreement with Mr Denwood.”
Mr Bond has since continued to hold events at the premises, including music nights, wrestling and boxing, rather than develop it as flats.
“Before the night I could see the interest and that there might be an opportunity to keep it open as an events space,” he said.
“The sign is now back in the main room with spotlights on it.”
John Halewood-Dodd, defending, said Mr Denwood had found the sign near a stairwell in the back of the building at the end of December 2015.
It was in a poor state of repair and covered in pigeon excrement.
After it had been cleaned, a photo of Mr Denwood with the sign appeared in The Visitor as part of a story about the finale night.
Mr Denwood told the court: “I told Mr Bond that I wanted the sign and he said everything was going to be binned and that I could have it.
“He was more interested in the bricks and mortar and what he could do with the building.
“We spoke about me keeping the sign twice.”
After the event, Mr Denwood advertised the auction on his social media.
The sign was auctioned along with a banner made specially for the finale night and two unused tickets from the event.
Matthew Bunn, a friend of Mr Denwood who was helping him to decorate the nightclub for the event, gave evidence in court to confirm he had heard one of the conversations about the sign between Mr Denwood and Mr Bond.
“Mr Bond said the place was being knocked down and wouldn’t open again and that we could have the sign,” he said.
Clearing Mr Denwood of theft, magistrates said they found him to be a “credible and plausible witness” who was consistent with his evidence.
“Why would you place the sign on Facebook if you didn’t firmly believe it to be yours?” said the chief magistrate.
Afterwards, Mr Denwood said the case had caused him a lot of stress.
“I am just over the moon,” he said. “I had stopped doing events in this area as a result of this.
“I still love the Carleton, I just wish it had all happened differently.
“It’s one of the best buildings in Morecambe and my feelings towards it haven’t changed; I still have a lot of good memories from it.
“I am now looking forward to doing events back in Morecambe again.”