Expert "suspected" Shakespeare folio theft accused

Image caption,
Mr Scott denies theft and handling stolen goods

A librarian has told how his "heart sank" as he realised an ancient Shakespeare first edition he was authenticating was a stolen relic.

Richard Kuhta was given the damaged book by Raymond Scott in Washington DC.

Mr Scott, 53, from Wingate, County Durham, denies taking the folio from Durham University in 1998, and waiting 10 years to sell it.

Mr Kuhta of the Folger Shakespeare Library, told Newcastle Crown Court he was immediately suspicious of Mr Scott.

The library called in the British Embassy, Durham Police and the FBI after being given the badly damaged book in 2008.

The court heard Mr Scott posed as a wealthy international playboy who claimed to have discovered the Shakespeare's first folio when holidaying in Cuba.

But experts at the library soon discovered the artefact, which had pages missing and its bindings and cover removed, was a unique 1623 first printing of the bard's collected works stolen in a raid at Durham University in December 1998.

Image caption,
The folio has been "mutilated" since its theft 12 years ago

Scott, who has denied theft, handling and transporting stolen goods, intended to sell the book at auction then share the money with friends in Cuba, the trial heard.

Experts estimated the first folio to be worth £1m, even in its damaged state. They said in terms of its cultural value it was priceless.

Mr Kuhta said: "He said he'd inherited his father's construction building supplies business and had sold it and as a result he was very comfortably off.

"He said he had something to show me. He started flicking through the pages very quickly showing me it was a first edition.

"I was startled by the way in which the book was being handled and by the sudden realisation that the man seemed to know it was a first edition.

"My heart sank. It was a feeling of sadness to think we were dealing with stolen property.

"The collections are what we live for, preserving them, building them, making them accessible.

"This is one of the most important books not just in the history of literature but in the English language."

Mr Scott, had hoarded the folio at the former council home he shared with his elderly mother in Washington, Tyne and Wear, since stealing it, the court heard.

The trial continues.

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