Cambridge graduate sentenced for rare books theft

Wesley Johnson,Press Association
Tuesday 20 July 2010 12:49 BST

A tome raider who stole antique books worth £40,000 from a world-famous library was jailed for three-and-a-half years today.

Cambridge University graduate William Jacques, who stole £1 million of rare books in the late 1990s, drew up a "thief's shopping list" as he continued his life of crime.

He used a false name to sign in to the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library in London before stuffing valuable books under his tweed jacket and fleeing, Southwark Crown Court in London was told.

Recorder Michael Holland QC told Jacques: "You have absolutely no intention of turning away from what seems to you to be an extremely lucrative and easy crime."

Such crimes "undermine and destroy parts of the cultural heritage that's contained within these libraries", the judge said.

The judge, who said Jacques had no mitigation, told him: "You are a Cambridge graduate and should know better, I suppose."

He went on: "This was a systematic and carefully-planned theft and you had prepared what, in my view, was a target list, from your research at that library, of books that were worth stealing.

"This was a theft in progress and the list referred to books worth tens of thousands of pounds more.

"Your entire motivation was commercial and you intended to make whatever money you could from the theft of these books despite their cultural value.

"The effect of your criminality was to undermine and destroy parts of the cultural heritage that's contained within these libraries and make it more difficult for those who have a legitimate interest in these books to gain access to them because libraries have to take inconvenient and expensive steps to stop thefts of this kind."

Jacques was "relying on the reluctance of library staff to challenge people" when they were used to dealing with members of the public whom they could trust, the judge said.

Jacques, 41, previously plundered more than £1 million of historic books from the UK's leading libraries in the biggest haul of its kind in British legal history.

The serial book thief, who escaped with some 500 extremely rare antiquarian books, hid behind a "shabby cloak of respectability" as he went on to sell them at auction houses in the late 1990s, judge Derek Inman said in May 2002.

Motivated by arrogance, greed and an obsession with money, the loner raided the nation's libraries, devastating their collections and damaging valuable works in an attempt to disguise their origins.

Even a four-year jail sentence, imposed by Judge Inman at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court for 21 counts of theft, could not stop him.

In the latest case, the jury heard that Jacques would regularly visit the Lindley Library in Vincent Square, central London, which holds books, journals, pictures and art on practical gardening, garden history, plants and design dating back to 1514.

The rare volumes of Nouvelle Iconographies des Camellias by Ambroise Verschaffelt were taken some time between June 2004 - when an audit of the books was last undertaken - and March 2007, the court was told.

Gino Connor, for the prosecution, said the crime was a "systematic, carefully planned theft committed by a man who knew precisely what he was doing".

"We are not dealing with Penguin books, we are dealing with very valuable books," he said.

Jacques, highly intelligent with an understanding of rare and valuable books, studied at Cambridge University and was a member of both the British Library and the London Library.

But staff started to become suspicious after noticing he would always wear the same clothes - a tweed jacket and glasses - on visits to the library.

Mr Connor said that, on one occasion, the defendant "was seen to place something inside his jacket and walk away with his left arm stiff against his jacket as if holding something".

"It was rather crude, but it was effective," Mr Connor said.

He told the jury that Jacques always signed in when visiting the library, when he had both arms free. But he never signed out.

Staff called police to the library on April 2, 2007 after noticing Jacques in the building, the court heard.

On being challenged by officers and staff, he said: "I do not know nothing (sic)about this", before adding: "Do you have any evidence?"

Jacques also had a card for London's Senate House library in the name of "Santoro" with him, the same name he used to sign in to the Lindley Library.

Police also found an A4 piece of paper with the names of 70 volumes of rare books, all kept at the library, which were listed in sequential order as to where they could be found.

The document amounted to a "thief's shopping list", Mr Connor said.

Notes were also made as to their valuation and whether they included maps and plates - which could be removed and sold separately, the court was told.

"This tends to suggest that there was a great deal of pre-planning," Mr Connor said.

Jacques, of no fixed address, was found guilty of theft, relating to the 13 volumes missing from the library, by a majority of 11-1.

The jury of seven women and five men, who deliberated for five hours and 40 minutes, also unanimously found Jacques guilty of going equipped with the Senate House card to commit theft.

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