The British Library was among the libraries targeted. Photograph: Martin Argles
A Cambridge graduate who stole more than £1m worth of rare books during his career as a professional book thief was today found guilty of stealing £40, 000's worth of books from a celebrated library.
William Jacques, nicknamed "Tome Raider" after stealing hundreds of rare books in the late 1990s, drew up a "thief's shopping list", targeting the most expensive books that he could access.
He used a false name to sign in to the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley library in London before hiding valuable books under his tweed jacket, Southwark Crown Court was told.
Detective Constable Paul Howitt said Jacques, the son of a farmer from Selby, North Yorkshire, was an "extremely arrogant man, a very greedy man who was obsessed by money" and was "responsible for the biggest ever raid of our leading libraries".
The Cambridge graduate began selling stolen books at auction houses in the late 90s. The haul that led to his previous conviction, some 500 rare antiquarian books and pamphlets from the British Library, Cambridge University Library and the London Library, was one of the biggest of its kind in British legal history, and many of the works were damaged in an attempt to disguise their origins.
Judge Derek Inman told Jacques he had hidden behind a "shabby cloak of respectability" as he spent years systematically plundering valuable collections without anyone noticing.
Jacques had been a member of the three libraries for years, ironically informing the British Library that he needed their facilities for "economic research". He has a extremely high IQ and used his knowledge of the antiquarian book trade to cheat police, the court heard.
But his scam unravelled in February 1999 when book specialists Pickering & Chapman noted that identification marks on Pure Logic And Quality by William Jevons, an obscure book bought for £120 at Bloomsbury Book Auctions (BBA) in London, had been removed.
Auction houses across Europe were notified, and several realised they had sold stolen books from Jacques, including Christies who dealt with his stolen books on nine occasions since 1996. After his arrest in 1999, Jacques denied theft, claiming he collected and repaired antique books as a hobby. But he then transferred £360, 000 to three bank accounts in Cuba and fled to Havana while on bail.
As police closed in, he wrote from Cuba, saying he had left books at strong boxes at bank branches around the country. Detectives found about 60 books in safety deposit boxes in Jacques' name at banks in Cambridge, York and London.
Cuba has no extradition treaty with the UK, but seven weeks later Jacques left the Caribbean island, and returned to England. After a two-year investigation he was jailed and ordered to pay £310, 000 in compensation and costs.