'Irreplaceable' stolen books worth £2.5 million returned to owners

10 November 2020, 08:36 | Updated: 10 November 2020, 08:43

240 culturally significant books were stolen by a Romanian criminal gang
240 culturally significant books were stolen by a Romanian criminal gang. Picture: Metropolitan Police
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Books worth more than £2.5 million that were stolen during a 'Mission Impossible' style burglary have been returned to their rightful owners.

The 240 culturally significant books included works by Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton and the eighteenth-century Spanish painter Francisco Goya.

They were stolen during a "highly sophisticated burglary" in which two thieves from a Romanian organised criminal gang abseiled from the roof of a warehouse in Feltham, west London, in January 2017.

All 240 works of "immense cultural significance" were then transported to Romania by the gang, who were all Romanian nationals, the police said.

The haul belonged to three book dealers, two Italian and one German, and was later found buried under a house in rural Romania.

The books included works by Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton
The books included works by Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton. Picture: Metropolitan Police

However, four of the books were not recovered when Scotland Yard detectives travelled to the country's capital Bucharest as part of an investigation including Italian and Romanian authorities.

In October, 12 men were jailed after being convicted of committing a series of burglaries.

Customs clearing centre Frontier Forwarding, where the books were being stored prior to being shipped to the US for a specialist book auction, was "deliberately targeted", Kingston Crown Court heard.

Unfortunately, 83 of the books were damaged, ranging from slight to severe, by water and mould due to how the books had been hidden underground, and some had broken spines believed to be from poor methods of transportation.

28 were assessed as having substantial damage and two were so severely damaged they were initially assessed as being beyond repair.

Met officers, Romanian investigators, owners of the books and two library workers
Met officers, Romanian investigators, owners of the books and two library workers. Picture: Metropolitan Police

One of the victims Alessandro Riquier said: "After three-and-a-half years, finally this terrible story has a very happy ending.

"I went to Bucharest full of hope but also a little bit scared about the damaged books.

"I was very excited and it was a great joy to handle my books again and to see that apart from one missing, and four books with variable damage, all the books were in good condition."

Detective Inspector Andy Durham, who led the investigation, said: "It was lovely to see the joy of each victim being reunited with these irreplaceable books.

"In particular, the moment when one of the victims - Alessandro Bado – set eyes on the books at the library, and once he had seen the condition of a few of the most important books that he was emotionally attached to, he was so happy and said with great gusto: 'Tonight we drink like Lions'."

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the four remaining books can contact Mr Durham's team on +44 (0)7741703053 or can also call police on 101 quoting Cad 4340/05Nov20 or by contacting Crimestoppers anonymously via 0800 555 111.

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