Northern Ireland

Belfast honesty cafe stolen sketchbook returned

Chris Bennett tweeted a photo of the sketch book after it was returned Image copyright Chris Bennett
Image caption Chris Bennett tweeted a photo of the sketch book after it was returned

A tourist's sketchbook, which was among items stolen in a burglary at a Belfast "honesty cafe", has been returned anonymously following a public plea.

The Reverend Chris Bennett, who runs The Dock Cafe in the Titanic Quarter, appealed for the book after the cafe was robbed of its takings on Monday.

He said as well as the returned book, they were "overwhelmed" with donations.

Honesty cafes work on the premise that customers are trusted to pay a "fair amount" for food into an honesty box.

Rev Bennett told BBC News NI the response from the public to the cafe's plight after the burglary had amazed him.

Image caption The Reverend Chris Bennett said the public response to the burglary has been overwhelming

He said one person walked into the cafe with a donation in an envelope on Wednesday morning, and another had set up an online donation page to support its work.

"I think we've got back as much as we lost at this stage," said Mr Bennett.

However, he would not be drawn on the details of how the sketchbook had been returned to the cafe.

Having promised not to ask any questions if it was returned, he said he did not want cause anyone "embarrassment".

'Irreplaceable pictures'

The sketchbook belongs to an English tourist, who had left it behind by mistake during a recent visit to the cafe.

Staff found the book, which Mr Bennett said contains "very beautiful, intricate drawings," and placed it in their safe, ready to post back to the owner.

However, the book and the cafe's takings went missing when the building was broken into earlier this week.

Belfast Harbour Police said: "At some stage between 19:00 on Monday and 09:00 on Tuesday entry was forced into the Dock Café and a number of items were stolen."

Image copyright Chris Bennett/Twitter

Mr Bennett, who is also the chaplain for the Titanic Quarter, had earlier made a plea for the book's safe return on the BBC Radio Ulster's Thought for the Day.

"We've always worried about it and it happened," he told listeners. "The honesty cafe was robbed.

"After the police left, we discovered that among the items stolen was something very important, not the money or other things, which is ultimately just stuff.

"But locked up in the stolen safe, was a sketchbook which had been accidentally left by a tourist. It contained irreplaceable pictures and drawings of immense emotional value."

He explained how an English tourist had got in touch with the cafe to ask if it had been left behind and was "over the moon" when staff found it down the back of a sofa and promised to post it back.

"We took it and the memories it represented and locked it away in the safe," said Mr Bennett.

"Now, heartbreakingly, we have to email him again and tell him that having found it it has been lost again."

'Honesty works'

On Tuesday, the Belfast Telegraph reported that the cafe owners were determined that "those kind of people are not going to win".

Image copyright Rev Chris Bennett/Twitter
Image caption Customers are trusted to pay what think their food and drink was worth

Rev Bennett pleaded on Radio Ulster for the burglar or burglars to send back the book.

"We bear you no ill will," he said. "The money is just money and the stuff, just stuff.

"It was valuable but can be replaced but that sketch book was precious. We just would love to find it in your heart to send it back.

"I'm appealing to your better nature because I still believe that it's there. I refuse to give up trusting in people," he added.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Bennett told BBC News NI that the recovered sketchbook "is now in the post, which is what we probably should have done in the first place".

He also said he had been touched by the public's generosity and the "many messages of support" they had received since going public about the burglary.

The chaplain added that his faith in the "honesty works" philosophy had been vindicated.

He said it had given him and his team a "fresh energy" to continue their cafe project.

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