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Stolen Shakespeare folio is given its day in court

A valuable Shakespeare first edition stolen from Durham university library in 1998 was displayed in public for the first time in a decade today.

The 387-year-old relic, which is at the centre of an international intrigue involving a flamboyant jobless book dealer, a cocktail waitress and a Cuban special forces commando, was carried into Newcastle Crown Court in a padlocked black plastic strongbox.

Described by experts as the most important printed work of English literature in the world, it had been missing until the book dealer, Raymond Scott, handed it to staff at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC asking for it to be authenticated.

Posing as a wealthy international playboy he told researchers he had been entrusted with the folio by friends in Cuba, who believed it might be valuable, the court heard.

Folger staff suspected that the folio, which had had its covers removed and had pages missing, might be stolen and contacted the British Embassy, Durham Police and the FBI. Weeks later Scott, of Wingate, County Durham, was arrested.

Dressed in his trademark £300 Tiffany prescription sunglasses and diamond ring, the 53-year-old watched intently from the dock as the 1623 artefact, once owned by Bishop of Durham John Cosin, was examined.

The trial was told Scott "damaged, brutalised and mutilated" the folio in an attempt to disguise it after stealing it from a display of treasures of English Literature at the Cosin Library on Durham University's Palace Green.

But Ian Doyle, the university's former librarian and Keeper of Rare Books, said the folio had been quickly identified as the Cosin edition.

The court has heard how Scott, who denies stealing, handling and transporting the folio overseas, had become infatuated with a young Cuban waitress and had been sending her money, leaving himself £90,000 in debt. It was claimed she would share the proceeds of the sale with Scott and a retired Cuban Army commandant, Deni Mareno Leon.

The trial, which is expected to last four weeks, continues on Monday.