AN unemployed "fantasist" with a taste for the high life was jailed for eight years yesterday 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.
The book was defaced to hide its true identity, an act the judge in the case described as “cultural vandalism” on a “quintessentially English treasure.”
Last month a jury at Newcastle Crown Court found Scott guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from Britain, though he was cleared of stealing the book from Durham University in 1988.
Yesterday he was also sentenced on the theft of two paintings worth around £1,000 from Fenwicks department store in Newcastle in October 2008, four months after his arrest over the Shakespeare book.
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.” He added: “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.”
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.
He received two six-month prison sentences to run concurrently for the theft of the two paintings.
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.”
After the case, Durham University vice-chancellor Chris Higgins welcomed the sentence given to Scott.
He said: “The book will be on display in its present condition so that people can see the damage done to it following the theft. The main book is intact but the title leaf, which showed ownership by Durham’s Cosin’s Library from Shakespeare’s day, was torn out and the binding was cut off with a knife.
“This was blatant cultural vandalism akin to taking a knife to Constable’s The Hay Wain.”
Bard's book is worth at least £1m
DURING the trial, jurors heard that Scott was arrested after presenting the badly-damaged folio to staff at the Folger library in Washington DC, 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.
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 £1m.