Twist in the tale of an epic book thief

Man who stole 42,000 volumes tries to buy back some of his booty at auction
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The Independent Online

A "sad and inadequate" poultry worker who stole 42,000 books over 30 years made a surprise appearance at an auction yesterday of the 12,000 volumes which police had been unable to return.

Duncan Jevons, 50, walked into Abbots auction house at Campsea Ash, near Ipswich in Suffolk, as it launched into the two-and-a-half hour sale of his erstwhile library. But after 20 minutes he disappeared.

The former theology student, who in the dock had professed genuine remorse for his crimes, said he had planned to spend pounds 1,000 on books - but was "too embarrassed" to bid.

Geoffrey Barfoot, one of the auctioneers, said he could have been dismayed by the attention he provoked. But he added: "It would have been quite in order for him to bid, providing we had his registration details."

Mr Jevons, who worked at the Bernard Matthews turkey plant, was sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court last June to 15 months in prison after admitting four specimen charges of theft and asking for 316 offences to be taken into consideration. He was freed after serving half of his sentence at Highpoint Prison near Haverhill, Suffolk.

At his trial he was described as "a sad, inadequate, obsessive man" who found it difficult to form lasting relationships and lived alone except for his cat. Yesterday's auction raised pounds 4,000 from the sale of all 277 lots of 50 books. None was particularly old and all had been defaced to remove stamps and other marks of identification.

Mr Jevons clearly had broad literary tastes. He stole books on almost every conceivable subject including Nazism, witchcraft, poetry, philosophy, fiction, the monarchy, art, Marxism and religion. The only subject that does not appear to have interested him is sport.

Among his hauls were two complete sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica from Hengrave Hall library near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and a 100-volume set of the complete works of St Thomas Aquinas from the Catholic Centre Library in London. He filched most of them by walking out with them in a battered leather briefcase. The two sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica he put on a windowsill and then took them from outside.

Mr Jevons claimed that he stole the books to impress his friends and had not read them all. "Books became my substitute people and formed a sort of barrier against the outside world," he said.

His kleptomania came to light after a Suffolk police officer noticed him trying to sell a book stamped Cumbria County Libraries at a car boot sale near Carlisle. His suspicions were confirmed when he discovered that books filled Mr Jevons's 18th-century five-bedroom house in Halesworth. One room was stacked floor-to-ceiling with a space hollowed out in the middle for the light bulb.

Although Mr Jevons carried out the thefts over a period of more than 30 years, he claimed he had got no pleasure from stealing and said it was "almost a relief" when he was caught.

He might have noticed the poetic justice of yesterday's sale. The pounds 4,000 it raised is destined for the Police Property Fund, which helps fund crime prevention.