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[BKARTS] Thief who plundered libraries for rare maps is sent to jail (the Peter Bellwood case)
Thief who plundered libraries for rare maps is sent to jail
By Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent
23 December 2004
A former landscape gardener who travelled Britain and Europe stealing rare
maps from libraries was jailed yesterday for four-and-a-half years.
Peter Bellwood, 52, was once on Scotland Yard's "Ten most wanted" list. He
posed as a naive academic to gain access to valuable maps, which he secretly
cut from books and stuffed in his trousers and jumper. Most recently he
targeted the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth, where he stole at
least 50 antique map prints, and sold them for £70,000. Among the missing
treasures were prints in 16th- and 17th-century editions of atlases by
Mercator, Speed, Jansson and Blaeu.
Bellwood, from Colchester, Essex, was sentenced at Swansea Crown Court for
the thefts in Wales. At an earlier hearing he had admitted six charges of
theft of antique maps in 2000.
Staff in Aberystwyth were alerted to his activities by the Royal Library in
Copenhagen, where he had been caught on CCTV in 2001 apparently razoring
pages from a 16th-century atlas. Libraries in Finland and Sweden later
discovered he had visited.
With another British map thief, Bellwood is believed to have taken a large
proportion of the 4,500 maps missing from libraries across Europe. An audit
at the Welsh Library showed 105 maps were missing, only half of which
Bellwood admitted having stolen. He was caught after several years on the
run shortly after he was placed on the "most wanted" list. The court was
told Bellwood had stolen the maps to fuel a horse-race gambling addiction.
Creighton Harvey, for the prosecution, said Bellwood would sign in at
libraries under his own name and request rare folio editions of atlases
which he would then be allowed to handle in a map room. "He would use a
hobby knife to cut the maps out," Mr Harvey said. "He would then fold them
up and place them down the back of his trousers so he was able to leave the
library with the maps."
He said Bellwood would establish his honest credentials with library staff
by handing in one of his own £50 notes, claiming he had found it on the
This technique was also used in Copenhagen where he handed in a 500-kroner
note (worth £46) to librarians claiming to have found it "lying around".
Today he is the subject of an extradition request from Denmark, where he is
wanted for numerous alleged thefts.
Bellwood had a long criminal career, but his first offence involving
antiquities was in 1988 when he broke into a bookshop and stole ancient
volumes worth £1,250. When he found how easy it was to steal antique maps
from the world's great libraries he moved into big-time art theft. In 1996,
he was jailed for four years for stealing hundreds of prints and
illustrations. Police raided his home in Swillington, West Yorkshire, where
he lived with his wife and son, and found the walls covered in art works.
His total haul from 12 British libraries, including Birmingham and Leeds
central libraries, was believed to be worth £290,000. Bellwood used a book
listing the top 60 collections in UK libraries as a thieves' handbook.
Peter Caldwell, for the defence, said corruption and use of illicit sources
was common practice in the rare book trade, making it easy to sell on stolen
goods. He said Bellwood had managed to overcome his addiction and gave
himself up when he saw a police television appeal about himself. Judge
Christopher Morton told Bellwood: "The damage cannot really be estimated.
The folios themselves were damaged and the 38 maps still missing are
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