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Other Infamous Thieves Who Pillaged Libraries, Part III

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William Simon Jacques had taken 500 books from the Cambridge University Library, the British Library, and the London Library, The Telegraph reported in July of 2010 and the B.B.C. reported in July of 2010. Jacques took 500 books and pamphlets, Ms. Topping reported in The Guardian in June of 2010.

Eight years previously, Ms. Allison had written in The Guardian that Jacques had stolen “412 extremely rare antiquarian books.” This suggests that (a) Jacques stole 412 books and 88 or so pamphlets, (b) Ms. Topping and the B.B.C. rounded up in 2010, or (c) between 2002 and 2010 authorities realized Jacques had stolen closer to 500 books and pamphlets.

In 2010, Richard Harris stated in the York Press that the total value of the books Jacques was convicted of having stolen in the 1990s was £1,000,000. The B.B.C. also stated, in July of 2010, the books were worth £1,000,000.

Ms. Topping stated it was “more than £1m.” The Telegraph agreed.

Back in 2002, Rebecca Allison reported in The Guardian the “books and pamphlets were worth an estimated £1.1m.” According to Ms. Saunders-Watson, Jacques spent four years in prison and the total value of the books he was convicted of having stolen in the 1990s was (with the exchange rate) $1,500,000.

Ms. Topping reported in 2010 that most of the book Jacques stole had been recovered. Included amongst the recovered books were a copy of Galileo Galilei’s Sidereus Nuncius, published in 1610 and worth £180,000; Johannes Kepler's Astronomia Nova published in 1609 and worth £75,000; and two copies of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica published in 1687 and worth £135,000. Again, this in contrast with Ms. Allison’s 2002 article, in which she reported, “Some have been returned to the libraries but hundreds of the books have never been traced.”

In 2007, Jacques robbed the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library, located on Vincent Square in central London, after his release from prison. He signed in under a false name and stuffed books into the pockets of his tweed jacket.

The Lindley Library’s collection dates back to 1514, so it is 500 years old this year. It includes early printed books on horticulture, prints, and photographs, as well as the archive of the Royal Horticultural Society (R.H.S.) and the archival collections of famous gardeners and landscape architects.

Jacques stole thirteen volumes of Nouvelle Iconographies des Camellias by the famous Belgian horticulturist Ambroise Colette Alexandre Verschaffelt (1825-1886), the B.B.C. reported in July of 2010. The Telegraph reported that the R.H.S. indicated in court that an examination of records showed the books were taken between June of 2004 and March of 2007. According to Richard Harris and Ms. Topping, the total worth was £40,000, and according to Ms. Saunders-Watson of the A.C.N.I. they were worth (with the exchange rate) $60,700.

In April of 2007, he was arrested at the Lindley Library. The staff had noticed Jacques wore the same tweed jacket he visited, and signed in every time, but failed to sign out, the B.B.C. reported in July of 2010. He also signed in under a false name.

According to Ms. Saunders-Watson, the “police discovered a thief’s ‘shopping list’ of more than 70 rare titles, complete with their library shelf locations, conditions and U.S. book market values. A Royal Horticultural Society representative told HorticultureWeek magazine that the stolen books were insured and that the theft was discovered when another library user asked to read one of the volumes.”

The police re-arrested him on Christmas Day of 2009 in his hometown of Selby, according to Harris and the B.B.C. According to The Telegraph and the B.B.C., a prosecutor, Gino Connor, described the crime as a “systematic, carefully planned theft committed by a man who knew precisely what he was doing.”

His defense lawyer, Julia Smart, admitted Jacques was unrepentant, but argued it was a mitigating circumstance that Jacques had lost his job and his reputation and had to rely on the charity of friends as an odd-job man to survive, according to The Telegraph, the B.B.C. and Harris.

A jury of seven women and five men deliberated for five hours and forty minutes, according to The Telegraph. Found guilty at Southwark Crown Court on June 22, 2010, a judge sentenced Jacques to three-and-a-half years in prison on July 20, 2010, Harris recounted in the York Press.

According to The Telegraph, Ms. Saunders-Watson, Harris, and the B.B.C., the judge, Michael Holland, Q.C. said, “The effect of your criminality was to undermine and destroy parts of the cultural heritage that’s contained within these libraries and make it more difficult for those who have a legitimate interest in these books to gain access to them because libraries have to take inconvenient and expensive steps to stop thefts of this kind.”

The Lindley Library has increased security. One measure they have taken is to require that patrons present identification cards when they visit, in order to reduce the risk of someone signing in under a false name.

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