A PRICELESS first edition of Shakespeare’s works was “mutilated” so experts would not be able to identify it as a copy stolen from a North-East library, a jury was told yesterday.

Unemployed Raymond Scott is on trial at Newcastle Crown Court accused of stealing the 400-year-old manuscript from the Durham University library in Palace Green, Durham City, in December 1998.

The 53-year-old, from Sandgate Close, Wingate, County Durham, denies the charge along with charges of receiving stolen goods and moving criminal property from the UK.

Robert Smith QC, prosecuting, said Mr Scott presented the damaged artefact to experts having removed the binding, boards and some of the pages.

Mr Smith said: “The removal of specific pages is highly suggestive of trying to remove identifying features.

“The prosecution says that all the evidence establishes that the defendant is a dishonest con man.

“He carefully planned the sale of the book and destroyed all of the obvious signs that would lead to the proof that it is Durham’s.”

Mr Smith said the first collected editions of Shakepeare’s plays printed early in the 17th Century are known among experts as the ‘first folios’.

The manuscript in question was printed in 1623 and belonged to John Cosin, who fled to France after the defeat of King Charles I, but returned 16 years later when the monarchy was restored and he was made Bishop of Durham.

Mr Smith said: “The first folios have been called the most important books in the English language. It had hardly been touched or damaged and was a very fine example of a first folio.”

The rare manuscript was kept in Durham until it went missing when it was exhibited in a locked display cabinet at the library in December 1998.

It was considered to be missing until June 16, 2008, when Mr Scott walked into the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington DC, asking for it to be verified as genuine.

The jury heard the Folger has 79 copies of the first folios of Shakespeare’s work, a third of those in existence.

Mr Smith said Mr Scott told the librarian, Dr Richard Khuta, that it had been given to him by a retired Cuban soldier who befriended him, along with a young woman, during frequent visits to the Caribbean island.

Mr Scott allegedly tried to pass himself off as a multimillionaire with a jet set lifestyle, when in reality he was living with his elderly mother at her home in Washington, Wearside, not Washington DC, claiming benefits.

Mr Scott told Dr Khuta he planned to sell the book at auction and the librarian said he wanted a second opinion on the book.

Several experts concluded that Mr Scott’s copy was the one that had been stolen from Durham ten years earlier, despite attempts to deface it that had considerably reduced its quality and value.

Mr Smith said: “Dr Khuta described the book as a cultural legacy that had been damaged, brutalised and mutilated.”

The FBI contacted Scotland Yard, the British Embassy, the university library at Durham and Mr Scott was arrested by Durham Police on July 10, 2008.

The trial continues.