Gary Susman
June 17, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Maybe they’re all the fault of a certain evil wizard who must not be named. The security lapses that continue to plague the pre-release of ”Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” reached a new low on Sunday with the theft of thousands of copies of the new book from a delivery truck parked at a warehouse in Newton-le-Willows in northwestern England. According to the BBC, a man posing as a depot driver made off with the truck, which was found 18 miles away in Salford, emptied of its cargo of new ”Potter” books, which were to hit stores this Saturday.

While early reports suggested that the stolen books were worth as much as £1 million ($1.68 million), Merseyside police told the BBC that the 8,000 books had a retail value of £70,000 (about $118,000). Of course, what author J.K. Rowling is probably most worried about is not the money but the potential for leaks of the closely guarded plot of the book, for which fans have been waiting for three years. Rowling’s British publisher, Bloomsbury, said in a statement, ”We hope that nobody will spoil the excitement for all Harry Potter fans who are looking forward to reading the book.”

Earlier this month, forklift operator Donald Parfitt was fined and sentenced to community service after admitting to trying to sell to The Sun newspaper pilfered pages of the new ”Potter,” which he said found in the parking lot of a printing press in Suffolk that was cranking out sale copies of the book.

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