AN antiques dealer has appeared in court accused of handling an unusual jewelled exhibit stolen six years ago from a North-East museum.

Kenneth George Markworth, 49, denied a charge of handling the antique mechanical mouse, worth £90,000, when he appeared at Durham Crown Court yesterday.

The mouse, crafted in gold, with garnets for eyes and a body studded with pearls, was stolen from its case at Bowes Museum, County Durham, in April, 1994.

Following a lengthy hunt, it was spotted while being prepared for auction abroad by silver dealers SJ Phillips, in London's New Bond Street, earlier this year. It has since been returned to the museum, near Barnard Castle, while further police inquiries led to the arrest of Markworth, in Sussex.

The case was adjourned for trial, listed for April next year, provisionally at Durham.

Markworth's solicitor, Raymond Barnett, plans to apply to a High Court judge in Newcastle next week, to have the trial switched to a court in the South-East, as most of the witnesses are from that area.

Markworth, of Shelley's House, Mark Stakes Lane, Chailey, near Lewes, Sussex, was bailed to return to court for trial