A book dealer accused of stealing a valuable work of Shakespeare told police he was being framed by corrupt university staff, a court heard today.
Raymond Scott was arrested after he handed staff at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, asking for it to be authenticated.
The 53-year-old claimed to have discovered the stolen artefact in Cuba.
But staff at the world-renowned library recognised the folio as a unique first edition taken a decade earlier from Durham University's library on Palace Green, and called in the British Embassy, Durham Police and the FBI.
Each copy of the folio, printed in 1623, was unique and could be identified by its dimensions and by characteristic marks and printing errors, a trial at Newcastle Crown Court heard.
The only one similar to the stolen Durham University folio was a bullet-marked copy kept in a safe at Meisei University in Japan, the court heard.
Scott, who denies theft, handling, and transporting stolen goods, told police he would not have taken a book he knew to be stolen to the world's foremost authority on the works of William Shakespeare.
He claimed experts desperate to recover the stolen Durham University folio had conspired against him.
A jury heard how he told Durham Police detectives: "I am not saying that the experts are lying or that they are being deceptive but it rather looks as if their brief has been to compare the Cuban copy with known records of the Durham copy and look for similarities.
"It is all a very cosy world. It is sort of like a conspiracy; they are ganging up against me."
He said: "Do you seriously think I'm going to walk into the foremost Shakespeare library in the world and using my own name and address, with my fingerprints all over it, hand them a copy knowing and believing that it's got a doubtful provenance?
"A book worth millions - that I'm going to walk into such a place with such a book and ask to see the head librarian?
"There is no way if I had any knowledge that this was the Durham folio or a stolen copy that I would walk into the Folger Library, show the book to the head librarian and then leave all my bank details, my own name and address and show them my British passport.
"To suggest I would do that; it is tantamount to walking into the Louvre in Paris with the Mona Lisa under my arm, ten years after it had been stolen."
The prosecution allege that Scott, of Manor Grange, Wingate, County Durham, stole the folio from a secured glass cabinet at an exhibition of ancient English literature at Durham University's Palace Green Library in 1998.
Jurors heard he hoarded the folio at the two-up two-down former council home he shared with his elderly mother Hannah in Washington, Tyne and Wear, for a decade before taking it abroad.
The folio, which once belonged to the Bishop of Durham John Cosin, is one of the most important books not just in the history of literature but in the English language.
Experts estimate its value at 1.5 million US dollars (£994,130).
They said in terms of its cultural value it was priceless.
Scott has now accepted that the book he handed to the Folger staff was the stolen Durham folio.
The trial, which is expected to last until next week, continues tomorrow.