We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Monday, 2 August 2010

Antiques dealer jailed over stolen Shakespeare folio

An antiques dealer has been jailed for eight years for handling a stolen copy of Shakespeare's First Folio.

Raymond Scott, 53, from County Durham was cleared of stealing the treasure, but found guilty of handling stolen goods at a trial in June. The 1623 work was taken from a display cabinet at Durham University in 1998. Judge Richard Lowden called the folio "quintessentially English treasure" and said damage to it was "cultural vandalisation".

The case related to one of the surviving copies of the 17th Century compendium of Shakespeare's plays. It was handed in by Scott to the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC a decade later. The Newcastle Crown Court trial was told Scott kept the badly-damaged volume, estimated to be worth about £1m, at his house for a decade before taking it to the Folger library where staff called police.

It was alleged Scott hoped to sell the treasure at auction and share the money with friends in Cuba. 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." Judge Lowden said that Scott had either deliberately damaged the book himself or was party to its damage.

He added: "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. "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."

Title page of Shakespeare first folio The court heard the folio had been "mutilated" since its theft

During the trial, the jury heard experts from the US quickly suspected the book was stolen and called in the British Embassy, Durham Police and the FBI. They discovered the artefact was an incredibly rare example of the folio, regarded as one of the most important works of literature ever printed. He was given a six-year prison term for handling stolen goods and two years' imprisonment - to run consecutively - for removing stolen property from Britain. 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.

Scott, of Manor Grange, Wingate, was arrested in June 2008. He declined to give any evidence in his defence during his three-week trial.Durham University said it was looking forward to the folio being returned.

BBC NEWS

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