IT could have been three times in a row for Scottish crime writer Denise Mina. But Belinda Bauer stepped in instead to scoop the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for her novel Rubbernecker.

As broadcaster and novelist Mark Lawson announced in his customarily witty awards speech, Bauer's win was probably a relief to title sponsor Simon Theakson.

Football teams that won the World Cup three times got to keep the cup, Lawson pointed out. It was less well known, he said, that "crime novelists who won the Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year get to take Simon Theakston home".

Now in its tenth year, the award is considered one of the most coveted crime writing prizes.

Bauer said: “This is really unexpected; it feels like a very lucky accident to win this award when my fellow shortlisted authors seem so much smarter than me. I’m delighted. It’s a wonderful festival and such a prestigious prize.

"I’d like to thank the judges who read all the shortlisted books, and Simon Theakston for sponsoring the festival. I’d particularly like to thank my publishers, Transworld, and my wonderful agent, Jane Gregory.”

Rubbernecker features Patrick Fort, a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome. Life is already strange for Fort and that's before he examines a body in anatomy class and decides that a murder has been committed.

Bauer told Lawson that she had no medical knowledge and she was very squeamish. "So researching the novel felt like months of homework," she said.

The annual festival, hosted at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, now proclaims itself to be "the world’s biggest celebration of crime".

The 2014 Award is run in partnership with T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith, and Radio Times. Belinda collected a £3,000 cash prize, as well as a handmade oak cask provided by Theakstons Old Peculier – which she promptly dropped, although without causing any damage.

Simon Theakston, executive director of T&R Theakston, gave a witty speech introducing the prize, with his customary inclusion of lines from previous years. He said: “It was a very tough decision as it is every year as all the books on the shortlist were outstanding but I’m delighted to hand the trophy to Belinda.”

A special presentation was made to Lynda La Plante for her outstanding contribution to crime fiction.

Lynda said: “I am delighted to be at the festival this year and it is a great honour to be the recipient of such a prestigious award. I've decided to dedicate my award to the late Verity Lambert, who had faith in me at the very start of my writing career when she commissioned Widows.

"Also to the readers of my books and viewers of my television productions, they give me such enthusiastic and valuable feedback and without them I wouldn't have this wonderful career that I enjoy so much.”

La Plante joins Ruth Rendell, PD James, Colin Dexter and Reginald Hill as recipients of the award.

The Liverpool author began her career as an actress before turning to scriptwriting. La Plante has written over 170 hours of award-winning television drama including Widows, Prime Suspect and Above Suspicion.

She recently announced she has begun writing Tennison, based on her character Jane Tennison (played by Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect), which will follow the character from the age of 21 when she joins the police.

The festival continues today and ends tomorrow.