'Tome Raider' faces jail term after ransacking libraries for rare books

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The Independent Online

An accountant nicknamed the "Tome Raider" faces a lengthy jail term after being convicted of plundering £1.1m worth of historic books from libraries.

William Jacques, 32, ransacked hundreds of first-edition books and then sold them at auction houses.

The Cambridge graduate was convicted a year ago of 19 counts of theft from the British Library, Cambridge University Library and the London Library, dating from October 1996 to May 1999. Yesterday he pleaded guilty to two further counts of theft.

In total he stole 412 extremely rare antiquarian books making the haul one of the biggest of its kind in British legal history. The works stolen included first editions of Principia Mathematica by Sir Isaac Newton, books by Galileo, and The Wealth of Nations by the Scots economist Adam Smith.

Some of the books have been returned to the libraries but hundreds have never been traced. Volumes dating back hundreds of years were recovered from auction houses in Britain and Germany and bank safe deposit boxes.

At his trial last year Karim Khalil, prosecuting, told jurors at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court: "He is a professional thief with financial greed underlying all that he did and he is now hiding behind the cloak of educated respectability."

He added: "We are not dealing with last year's law book."

The scam came to light in February 1999 when a customer bought an obscure book called Pure Logic and Quality by William Jevons, for £120 at Bloomsbury Book Auctions in London. The customer took it to the specialists, Pickering & Chapman, where the managing director became suspicious because identification marks had been removed.

The book had come from a consignment lodged at the saleroom by Jacques. Other rare volumes were found to have been lodged at Christie's in London and two auction houses in Germany.

Questioned by police about the books, Jacques said he had only dealt with Bloomsbury Book Auctions and he collected and repaired books as a hobby.

But after the first interview, Jacques fled to Havana, leaving a note to police saying that he had left books at strong boxes at bank branches around the country. Detectives found about 60 books in safety deposit boxes in Jacques' name at banks in Cambridge, York and London. They also discovered scores of yellowing pages, with holes where library stamps had been cut out, and bookplates marked "ex libris" – latin for "from the library of" – in one deposit box.

Jacques, of Maida Vale, west London, now faces a huge bill to compensate the book owners. Judge Derek Inman yesterday warned him he faced a lengthy jail term when he passes sentence later this week.