LONDON (Reuters) - An unemployed British antiques dealer with a taste for the high life faces jail after he was convicted on Friday 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 centers with the 17th century book.
Staff at the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. recognized 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.
A jury at Newcastle Crown Court in northeast England found Scott guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from Britain, the Press Association said. However, he was cleared of stealing the book from Durham University in 1988.
Judge Richard Lowden remanded Scott in custody and said: “There will in due time be an inevitable substantial custodial sentence.”
During the trial, experts told the court the book had been damaged and had pages ripped out after its theft, cutting its value in half to about 1.5 million pounds ($2.28 million).
The 387-year-old collection was brought into court in a locked black strongbox before being taken out and presented to the jury on a pillow next to the witness box.
Scott, who lived with his mother, said he had discovered the book at a friend’s house in Cuba.
The chief prosecutor in Durham, Chris Enzor, said Scott had stolen a “national treasure” to help pay for a playboy lifestyle that he could not afford.
“This is a man who, in reality, lived on benefits with his mother but was running up huge credit card debts, funding a lavish lifestyle, driving a Ferrari, traveling around the world, staying in luxury hotels and dressing in expensive clothes,” Enzor said. “No doubt the pressure of his debts led him to try and sell the folio.”
Police said Scott had never worked in his life and owed 90,000 pounds on credit cards.
Scott, from County Durham, had denied all the charges and told police that there had been a conspiracy among Shakespeare experts to convict him.
“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,” he told detectives. “It is all a very cozy world. They are ganging up against me.
“Do you seriously think I am 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 has got a doubtful provenance?”
Author Bill Bryson, who is chancellor of Durham University, said the folio was “arguably the most important book in English literature,” adding: “It is fantastic that Durham’s copy is coming home at last.”
Reporting by Peter Griffiths