A DEALER arrested over the theft of a 400-year-old Shakespeare book worth £15m is mounting a legal challenge to have it returned to him.

Ray Scott, 51, from Washington, Wearside, will launch the action against Durham University at Durham County Court this morning.

The first folio edition of the Bard’s works from 1623 was stolen ten years ago from Durham University library.

Experts feared it had vanished for ever until Mr Scott was arrested.

He was detained after he walked into the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, claiming to have found it in Cuba.

Experts believed it was the missing Durham Folio and it sparked an FBI investigation.

The book, which is the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays, is being treated as evidence and is being held by Durham Police in a secure vault after it was returned to the UK under guard last week.

Last night, Mr Scott, 51, who is on bail, said: “I want recovery of what I refer to as the Cuban copy of Mr Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies London 1623, delivered by me to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

“It is claimed by Durham University to be their copy, which was stolen in 1998.

“Experts appointed by me require access to the book to compare and contrast the Cuban with known records of the Durham copy.

“This is something we have been denied and this is the first stage in attempting to get the book returned to me.

“I am confident that there are sufficient differences in the two books so that, on the balance of probabilities, it will be decided that the book is not the one that was stolen in 1998.”

Mr Scott said he obtained the book this year in Cuba through friends of his Cuban fiancee, Heidy Rios, a 21-yearold dancer at the Tropicana Club, in Havana.

He said it had been in the possession of a family whose ancestors came from Spain in the 19th Century.

A Durham University spokeswoman said: “We are delighted the book is back in the UK. As an investigation is under way, we cannot comment further.”

A Durham Police spokesman said: “Our inquiries are continuing.”