A jobless book dealer who posed as a wealthy international playboy "mutilated" a priceless work of Shakespeare in an attempt to disguise that it was stolen property, a court heard today.
Raymond Scott, 53, tore the binding and boards and pages from the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio before claiming to have discovered it in Cuba.
He was arrested after presenting the badly damaged folio to staff at the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, and asking for it to be verified as genuine.
Experts at the library, which houses a third of the world's surviving copies of the First Folio, suspected the book was stolen and called in the British Embassy, Durham Police and the FBI.
They discovered the artefact was an incredibly rare and unique example of the folio which had gone missing in a raid at Durham University a decade earlier.
Scott, the court heard, stole the book from a secured glass cabinet in an exhibition of ancient English literature at the university's Palace Green Library in December 1998.
Since then he had hoarded the folio - one of the most important works ever printed and part of England's "cultural legacy" to the world - at the two-up two-down former council home he shared with his elderly mother, Hannah, in Washington, Tyne and Wear.
Experts said that legacy had been "damaged, brutalised and mutilated" by Scott.
Prosecuting at Newcastle Crown Court, Robert Smith QC said the investigation began when Scott, dressed in a billowing T-shirt and wearing diamond rings, walked into the research department of the Folger Library and asked to see the librarian.
Claiming to be the multi-millionaire son of a building contractor, he said he had discovered the book while visiting friends in Havana.
It had been kept in a wooden Bible box at the home of his Cuban friend's recently deceased mother for more than 50 years, he said.
She referred to it as "the old English book" and had passed it on with a collection of antiquarian books printed in Spanish to her soldier son, Mr Smith said Scott had claimed.
The friend had entrusted the book to Scott so experts in the United States could confirm its authenticity.
Mr Smith said: "He presented himself as someone doing a service to the cultural community by bringing the book in to have it identified but he did not make it clear what he intended to do with the book.
"He told staff at the Folger Library he was staying at the Mayflower hotel in Washington DC, where he had a suite.
"The truth was he lived at a house on Wigeon Close, Washington - not DC but Tyne and Wear, with his mother."
The court heard that the folio had been damaged in an attempt to disguise its provenance.
Both the covers and the binding had been removed, plus the frontispiece and final page.
But experts were able to tell by the book's dimensions and by a hand-written note on the folio's catalogue, referring to the play Troilus And Cressida, that it was the Durham folio.
When experts verified the book as genuine, Scott wrote to the Folger Library to say he intended to inform the Washington Post Newspaper then sell it on the open market.
He was arrested in June 2008.
Independent experts said the book, even in its damaged state, was worth about 1.5 million dollars (£1 million).
Scott, of Manor Grange, Wingate, County Durham, has denied theft, handling stolen goods, and removing criminal property.
The four-week trial before Judge Richard Lowden at Newcastle Crown Court continues tomorrow.Reuse content