Mark Tallentire reports on the bizarre life and crimes of book dealer.

AN eccentric would-be international playboy was facing a lengthy prison sentence last night, despite being cleared of stealing a priceless Shakespeare volume from Durham University.

A jury at Newcastle Crown Court found self-styled rare book dealer Raymond Scott not guilty of stealing the Shakespeare First Folio from Palace Green Library in December 1998.

But he was found guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from the UK in relation to the book.

Adjourning the case for reports, Judge Richard Lowden remanded the 53-year-old into custody, telling him: “There will, in due time, be an inevitable substantial custodial sentence.”

Scott was accused of stealing the 1623 folio and concealing it for nearly a decade before producing it at the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, US, in June 2008, when he ran out of money.

He claimed to have acquired the book in Cuba – home of his fiancee, Heidi Garcia Rios, a 23-year-old nightclub dancer upon whom he had lavished thousands of pounds. He denied it was the Durham Folio.

But, despite the book being “damaged, brutalised and mutilated”, experts at the Folger quickly recognised it as the stolen copy and called in the FBI.

Scott was arrested in a raid on his home in Washington, Wearside, three weeks later and charged.

A jury of seven women and five men took just under a day to reach their unanimous verdicts.

Scott, of Manor Grange, Wingate, County Durham, will be sentenced next month.

The folio has been returned to Durham University.

After yesterday’s hearing, Detective Constable Tim Lerner, of Durham Police, said: “I’m extremely happy that the book has been returned to Durham.

“From the very start of the investigation, he has been difficult.

He is a liar. His whole story from start to finish was a complete lie and he launched a desperate attempt to sell the Folio because of the serious financial position he was in.”

Bill Bryson, chancellor of Durham University and a popular travel writer, said: “Shakespeare’s First Folio is arguably the most important book in English literature. It is fantastic that Durham’s copy is coming home at last.”

The folio included 36 of Shakespeare’s plays and helped establish his reputation as the greatest dramatist in the English language.

About 750 copies were printed and sold, of which about 230 survive – with the largest collection, 79, held at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The folio was part of Cosin’s Library, created by the 17th Century Bishop of Durham John Cosin, who is thought to have bought it new.

The so-called Cosin copy is the only one known to have stayed in the same personal library since its original purchase.

It was previously distinguished by a shelfmark of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, proving Cosin owned it before 1644. In the past, it was said to be worth £15m.

However, following its theft it was vandalised, with its title page – which bore the Cambridge shelfmark – removed.

It is now thought to be worth about £1m.

The folio was stolen while on display in Durham University’s Palace Green Library, on December 17, 1998.

It was the highlight of a 50- piece exhibition charting the progress of English literature from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century, staged to coincide with an academic conference.

The 380- year-old treasure was kept in a g l a s s - topped cabinet, protected by three mortice locks.

Librarian John Hall rec a l l e d : “ A t some point somebody broke into the case.

“As soon as that was discovered, I was informed. I can remember being in a meeting with one of the Durham (University) colleges and being pulled out of that to be told. It was a sinking feeling.”

Also stolen were six exceptional manuscripts and early printed books, which remain missing.

They included two late 14th or early 15th Century manuscripts.

Anyone with information on the missing books is asked to call Durham Police on 0345-60-60-365 or Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111.