Man tore priceless Shakespeare to cover up theft: court

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A man deliberately "mutilated" a priceless original Shakespeare folio in a bid to cover up the fact that he stole it, a British court heard Thursday.

Raymond Scott, 53, ripped the binding, boards and pages from the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio before claiming to have discovered it in Cuba, Newcastle Crown Court in northeast England heard.

The jobless book dealer, who posed as a wealthy playboy, was arrested after presenting the badly damaged folio at the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, asking for it to be verified as genuine.

Experts at the US library suspected it was stolen and alerted British authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the court heard.

"He presented himself as someone doing a service to the cultural community by bringing the book in to have it identified," prosecutor Robert Smith said.

"He told staff at the Folger Library he was staying at the Mayflower hotel in Washington DC, where he had a suite."

The truth was he lived with his mother in Washington, northeast England, said Smith.

Scott, who was arrested in June 2008, denies handling stolen goods, and removing criminal property.

Independent experts said the book, even in its damaged state, was worth about 1.5 million dollars (1.2 million euros).

Once experts identified the folio as genuine, Scott wrote to the Folger Library to say he intended to inform the press then sell it on the open market.

The court heard Scott stole to book from a secured glass cabinet at Durham University in 1998. Experts knew it was the Durham folio by its dimensions and a hand-written note on its catalogue.

It heard he kept the folio -- deemed one of the most important works ever printed and part of England's "cultural legacy" to the world -- at his home.

Experts said that legacy had been "damaged, brutalised and mutilated" by Scott.

The court heard the folio had been damaged in an attempt to disguise where it came from.

The four-week trial continues.

© 2010 AFP

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