Modern-day Fagin hired 15-strong gang to steal books to order

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With books piled on makeshift tables and a stream of scruffy suppliers, the enterprise did not appear to be the most sophisticated.

But behind the bookstall's amateur facade lay a sophisticated shoplifting racket, raising tens of thousands of pounds a week.

Ronald Jordan, 62, described as a modern-day Fagin, employed a 15-strong team of drug dealers and the homeless to steal thousands of books to order at high street stores across London and the South-east. His workers each stole up to 50 books a day, emptying entire shelves into bin bags. They were paid £1 for each book.

About 160 books, which were mostly travel guides or for children, were sold daily for £10 each at Jordan's two stalls - in Dominion Street in the City and under the arches near Waterloo station.

The operation was well known to retailers and publishers across the capital, including Books Etc, Borders, Lonely Planet and Penguin. Some bookshops refused to stock certain books because they knew they would be stolen within an hour.

Jordan, from Finchley, north London, was found guilty of conspiracy to steal and handling stolen goods at a hearing last week. Details were released by police yesterday. He will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court next month. Three of his accomplices were also found guilty while a fourth person was cleared.

Detectives believe Jordan began the book-selling scam about four years ago. During the Eighties, he was nicknamed "Umbrella Man" due to a string of court appearances relating to his exploits selling umbrellas on West End street corners.

The most astute aspect of his enterprise was the involvement of more than a dozen people desperate to make quick money, Inspector Andy Manning of City Police, who headed the investigation, said. "He targeted the right people and sold the books in the right places at the right time."

On Jordan's arrest in July 2002, police discovered 17,500 books worth an estimated £180,000 at his house.