William Simon Jacques is arguably the most infamous book thief in the world. Jacques has been tried and convicted three times (in 2001, 2002, and 2010) of stealing and selling books from the Cambridge University Library, the British Library, the London Library, and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library. The books were worth in the neighborhood of £1,140,000.
Police dubbed him the “Tome Raider,” the B.B.C. reported in July of 2010. Other news media outlets claimed it was the news media who gave Jacques this sobriquet.
Detective Constable Paul Howitt would testify in court Jacques was an “extremely arrogant man, a very greedy man who was obsessed by money,” as Alexandra Topping recounted in The Guardian in 2010. D.C. Howitt said Jacques was “responsible for the biggest ever raid of our leading libraries.”
Jacques grew up the son of a farmer in Selby, North Yorkshire, England. He attended Jesus College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, and graduated with a degree in economics in 1990. Jacques became a chartered accountant.
Giving context to his trial in 2010, Alexandra Topping reported in The Guardian that things began to go wrong for Jacques in February of 1999 “when book specialists Pickering & Chapman noted that identification marks” had been removed from Pure Logic by the English economist and logician William Jevons (1835-1882), purchased for £120 at Bloomsbury Book Auctions (B.B.A.) in London.
Ms. Allison recounted in 2002 that after the customer had purchased the book for £120 at B.B.A., someone had offered £600 for it, and the perplexed customer “took it to a specialist in economics books, Pickering & Chapman, where the managing director became suspicious.”
The holes in the book, which had been patched up with paper, provided tell-tale signs that the book had come from the London Library.
Further tranches of rare volumes were found to have been lodged at Christie's in London and auction houses in Munich and Berlin.
Ms. Topping related that the staff at Christie’s realized they had “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.”
According to Catherine Saunders-Watson of the Auction Central News International (A.C.N.I.), the amount of money he transferred to three bank accounts in Cuba while he was out on bail was $546,000. Ms. Topping explained that having fled to Havana, Jacques wrote the police to say he had hidden (stolen) books in safety deposit boxes under his own name in banks in Cambridge, York, and London, and consequently, detectives recovered three score books.
Back in 2002, Ms. Allison wrote, “Detectives found safety deposit boxes in Jacques' name at the Royal Bank of Scotland, in Trinity Street, Cambridge, at Lloyds TSB branches in York and at the Strand, London, and a Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Fleet Street, London. Around 64 books from the three libraries were found inside the boxes.”
He could have settled in Cuba, which had no extradition agreement with the United Kingdom, but, inexplicably, Jacques returned seven weeks later, Ms. Topping and Ms. Saunders-Watson both pointed out. In 2002, the B.B.C. had reported, “The day after police interviewed him, Jacques transferred £360,000 to three bank accounts in Cuba and flew out to the Caribbean island…But seven weeks later he returned to England and was arrested.”
In 2002, Rebecca Allison recounted in The Guardian that at the first trial of Jacques in February of 2001, prosecutor Karim Khalil said in his opening argument, “He is a professional thief with financial greed underlying all that he did and he is now hiding behind the cloak of educated respectability.”
We don't assert he actually got them out of the libraries in the first place but what he did afterwards was to pretend to be the owner to sell them or store them away for later, we say, to make quite a pile of money. We are not dealing with last year's law book. We are going back hundreds of years with some of them. They are valuable and he knew that.
In his 2001 trial, Jacques was convicted of nineteen counts of theft from the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, and the London Library between October of 1996 and May of 1999, Ms. Allison reported in The Guardian in 2002.
While he was in prison, Jacques faced trial in 2002 for two more counts of theft and pled guilty. During his 2002 trial, he was charged with twenty-one counts of theft and was sentenced to imprisonment for four years.
In the 2002 trial at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court, Judge Derek Inman gave Jacques a four year sentence for twenty-one counts of theft, Ms. Topping reported in June of 2010 and The Telegraph stated in July of 2010. Judge Inman said Jacques had hidden behind a “shabby cloak of respectability.” He was ordered to pay £310,000 in compensation, The Guardian’s Alexandra Topping reported in 2010.