Antiques dealer given eight years over stolen Shakespeare

Rod Minchin,Press Association
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:18

An unemployed antiques dealer with a taste for the high life was jailed today for eight years after he was convicted of handling a stolen copy of a rare first collection of Shakespeare's plays.

Raymond Scott, 53, who drove a yellow Ferrari and posed as an international playboy despite having huge debts, walked into one of the world's leading Shakespeare research centres with the 17th century book.

Staff at the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. recognised the valuable book and called the police, the British Embassy and the FBI.

Regarded as one of the most important printed works in the English language, less than 250 copies of the collection survive.

They were first printed in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death.

Last month a jury at Newcastle Crown Court found Scott guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from Britain.

However, he was cleared of stealing the book from Durham University in 1988.

Passing sentence, Judge Richard Lowden said: "You are to some extent a fantasist and have to some degree a personality disorder and you have been an alcoholic.

"It is clear that from the (psychiatric) report you are not suffering from any mental disorder."

Passing sentence, the judge branded the damage to the First Folio as "cultural vandalisation" and described it as a "quintessentially English treasure".

He said Scott had either deliberately damaged the book himself or was party to its damage and attempted to benefit from it.

"It would be regarded by many as priceless but to you it was definitely at a very big price and you went to very great lengths for that price," Judge Lowden told Scott.

"Your motivation was for financial gain.

"You wanted to fund an extremely ludicrous playboy lifestyle in order to impress a woman you met in Cuba.

"Your Cuban friends were brought in to provide support for your elaborate scheme."

The judge said the book had been kept out of the public eye for many years and had been "defaced to hide its true identity".

"This was an attempt by you to take on the world's experts at their own expertise," the judge told Scott.

"You were confident that that balance had been achieved. You were, however, over-confident."

The judge gave Scott a six-year prison term for handling stolen goods and two years' imprisonment - to run consecutively - for removing stolen property from Britain.

Scott also admitted theft of two paintings - worth around £1,000 - from Fenwicks department store in Newcastle in October 2008.

He received two six-month prison sentences to run concurrent to the eight years.

Scott, who was wearing his trademark glasses and a linen suit, kept his head bowed throughout the hearing at Newcastle Crown Court.

Flanked by two dock officers, Scott occasionally shook his head if something was said that he disagreed with.

The court heard that Scott had 25 previous convictions dating back to 1977, mainly for dishonesty.

He was unemployed, living off benefits, and until recently had been living with his elderly mother.

Toby Hedworth QC, defending, said Scott had been suffering from a long-standing alcohol addiction and since his remand in custody had not been drinking.

"He has, not through his own choice, been alcohol free for three weeks which is the longest period for years and years," the barrister said.

"This is the one benefit he has found of being deprived of his liberty."

During the trial, jurors heard Scott was arrested after presenting the badly damaged folio to staff at the US library and asking for it to be verified as genuine.

Experts at the institution, 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 in December 1998.

The book was taken from a secured glass cabinet in an exhibition of ancient English literature at the university's Palace Green Library.

It is regarded as one of the most important works of literature ever printed and part of England's "cultural legacy" to the world.

Experts found it had been "damaged, brutalised and mutilated" after it was stolen.

The 387-year-old book was shown to the court during the trial - the first time it has been displayed in public for a decade - taken into court in a padlocked black plastic strongbox and presented on a pillow next to the witness box.

Scott, of Manor Grange, Wingate, County Durham, was arrested in June 2008.

He claimed to have discovered the book in Cuba.

Scott denied all the charges but declined to give any evidence in his defence during his three-week trial.

But the jury heard that 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?"

Independent experts said the book, even in its damaged state, was worth about 1.5 million dollars (£1 million).

Chris Enzor, Durham chief crown prosecutor, welcomed the sentence handed out to Scott today.

"Raymond Scott is a dishonest conman and serial thief who found himself in possession of a national treasure," he said.

"Even after being caught with the folio he continued to deny knowing it was the copy stolen from Durham University 12 years ago.

"The priceless folio was mutilated in a bid to remove anything that might identify it as the Durham copy, pages and the binding was removed.

"The sentence reflects the seriousness of his crime, handling a book recognised across the world as one of the most important literary works ever published and removing it from the UK with a view to selling it."

Detective Constable Tim Lerner, who led the investigation, said: "This sentence reflects the seriousness of Raymond Scott's offending.

"He provided no assistance to the investigation at any stage and in fact during the course of the proceedings was quite contemptible towards the criminal justice system."