Koo Stark cleared of painting theft
The Duke of York's ex-girlfriend Koo Stark walked free from court today after she returned a £40,000 painting she was accused of stealing from a former partner.
The 57-year-old, of Clabon Mews in Knightsbridge, London, was appearing at Isleworth Crown Court, in west London, after she allegedly took the artwork from the flat of Warren Walker, father of her daughter Tatiana.
But before the case went to trial, prosecution and defence reached an agreement for her to return the Anthonie van Borssom oil painting, which depicts a moonlit coastal landscape.
Wearing a black fitted dress with white oriental print and black kitten heels and carrying a black leather handbag, Ms Stark - real name Kathleen - remained calm as she was cleared of one count of theft.
The American-born actress, then aged 26, dated the Duke of York after his return from the Falklands War in 1982. They went out together for 18 months.
The Duke went on to marry Sarah Ferguson in 1986.
The painting, titled A Moonlit Coastal Landscape With A Fisherman Drying Nets In The Foreground And Various Pinks Setting Sail, was brought to court and handed over to a solicitor representing Mr Walker.
Ms Stark's defence claimed yesterday that she believed it was hers when she took it.
Judge Andrew McDowall told her barrister Edward Henry: "It is an unfortunate fact that for many years these parties have been locked in battle in the civil and family courts.
"At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is if your client had acted through the civil courts, it would have been dealt with there and if she had not gone to the property and taken away the painting, this would never have happened.
"If things had gone differently, we might have been here for days.
"It was better to resolve this matter without running the risk of private personal matters being ventilated in court."
Mr Henry told the judge that the complainant had "sought to criminalise the mother of his child unjustly, disproportionally and inappropriately".
He also said the case had given rise to the "very real risk" that his client would be left homeless and unable to provide a home for her daughter.
In a statement read outside court by Ms Stark's solicitor, Jules Azzopardi, she said: "Today I have been cleared of a charge that should never have been brought against me.
"I leave court with my liberty and my good name, but it should never have come to this.
"I was a defendant charged with a serious crime.
"In my mind, I have been looking into a prison for the last 10 months.
"I have travelled through the criminal courts, a stranger in a strange land.
"When I was arrested I was even put into a cage - as they describe it at the police station.
"I have been vilified and put in the pillory.
"Fortunately, common sense has prevailed and my former partner has relented.
"As Yeats once said: 'Young we loved each other and were ignorant'.
"I leave with the desire that from now on we will treat each other with respect and that any disputes we may have are dealt with in private and with dignity."
Speaking outside the courtroom, Ms Stark did not answer questions about the incident, which took place on July 21 last year.
Her solicitor reiterated that it was her understanding that she had ownership of the 11.2-inch x 11.7-inch artwork until she transferred the title to Mr Walker today.
She also appealed to the public to donate to the Bar Pro Bono Unit, a charity which helps defendants with legal aid.
She said: "Had I not been legally represented in this case, the outcome may have been very different - I could have been another innocent person wrongly convicted.
"As a result of my unfortunate ordeal, I am deeply concerned about this Government's savage cuts to legal aid.
"I want to urge the public to make a big human cry about our basic human right to justice and representation before the courts.
"It is vitally important to any of us living in a civilised world that we have this recourse to a level playing field.
"If someone like me - sorry to put it that way - but if someone like me can be arrested, bruised and locked up in a police cage, which is an experience I never in my worst nightmares could have imagined, then surely it can happen to anyone."