THREE bookworms were wined and dined by their hero thanks to The Argus Appeal.

Brighton-born crime novelist Peter James invited a group of lucky fans to afternoon tea at his eight-acre home near Henfield after they made winning bids at an auction for this newspaper’s charity.

After meeting the author’s pet emus and exchanging nods with the resident herd of alpaca, the visitors were shown into the office housing his collection of police caps from around the world – and a life-size model of his fictional detective Roy Grace.

Peter told his spellbound guests how he often accompanies Sussex Police on jobs to find material for his award-winning books.

But he revealed his fears for the national police force before ushering them into the conservatory for champagne and scones.

He said: “Theresa May has completely destroyed the British police force.

“Their infrastructure has been hammered by the budget cuts.

“The police used to feel supported by the Government. They’re the ones who glue our civilisation together.”

Back in the Old Rectory at the top of the drive, Peter’s wife Lara – who he met on a ski lift four years ago – proudly showed off the Indian runner duck currently squatting in the couple’s kitchen.

The flightless bird hatched days after one of the three family dogs interrupted a conference call to deposit a perfectly preserved egg on the carpet.

He had brought it in from the garden pond where Peter keeps ducks.

A lavish tea was served in the “skullery”, so called because of the display of ornamental memento mori on the window sill.

“It’s been great to meet the man behind the books,” said 31-year old film producer Jamie Patterson, from Brighton.

He said he was not normally an avid reader but his host’s books were an exception.

Colleague Ian Lucas, 49, only discovered Peter’s work recently but he is already hooked.

He said: “Hearing Peter’s writing process is fascinating, and he’s got such a passion for the police.

“He’s very generous with his time.”

Rebecca Donnelly, 23, also from Brighton, named Dead Simple as her Peter James book of choice. She had taken along two of her personal library with her to be signed.

“It was a wonderful afternoon meeting my favourite author,” she beamed.

Peter kindly offered fans the chance to join him for a champagne afternoon tea during a glittering auction hosted by Sue Addis at her restaurant Donatello in The Lanes, Brighton.

A total of £15,000 was raised for local charities chosen by The Argus Appeal.

Peter’s kind offering was a highlight for bidders on the night, generating £1,200 alone.