Oxford don jailed for stealing books

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An Oxford University academic, one of Britain's leading experts on baroque music, was jailed for two years yesterday after he admitted stealing rare antique books from college libraries in Oxford and London and selling them to pay off his mortgage.

Dr Simon Heighes, 33, a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, was regarded as an eminent, respected and trustworthy academic, the prosecuting counsel Anthony McGeorge told Oxford Crown Court.

"But over a period of three years from 1992 he began to take books from various libraries. He told police he liked to take them home to copy them, but then became frightened of taking them back in case he was caught."

Heighes, who also lectures at Trinity College in London, was well known to BBC Radio 3 and World Service listeners for his music programmes.

Mr McGeorge said the scholar began to sell the rare volumes to Blackwell's book shop, in Oxford, and the auctioneer Sotheby's, in London, pocketing over pounds 140,000. He told the dealer they had come from his late grandfather's collection.

The court heard Heighes picked up the proceeds from six master works. Among them was a 1690 John Locke treatise and the rare Halley's Catalogus Stelliarum Australium. He stole a first edition of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica from the Christ Church Library in Oxford and sold it to Blackwell's for pounds 63,500. Blackwell's sold it on after making a pounds 4,000 profit and Mr McGeorge said it was now in the United States and unlikely to return. Heighes admitted 12 charges of theft and obtaining property by deception and asked for 113 other offences to be considered.

When Judge Francis Allen said it was extraordinary for Blackwell's to have bought some of the books, Mr McGeorge replied: "They were dealing with a man of eminence and respectability and a trustworthy academic. Heighes was a member of the Christ Church College library and admits he abused the privilege to which he had access." He added that Blackwell's and Sotheby's are trying to recover the books they sold on Heighes's behalf.

Patrick Eccles, defending, told the court Heighes felt "a genuine sense of shame and personal guilt". He said the don had used the money to pay off his mortgage. Heighes sold his home for pounds 149,000 and, with an inheritance, had pounds 195,000 available for compensation.

The judge told Heighes he had "grossly abused" the trust shown in him. He said he would deal with matters of compensation in January after agreement is reached over figures.