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[BKARTS] EIGHT thousand books gone missing from the British Library since it moved to new headquarters on London's Euston Road

Dennis the Menace lost in great museum raid
Maurice Chittenden
EIGHT thousand books worth at least £250,000 have gone missing from the
British Library since it moved to new headquarters on London?s Euston Road. 

Everything from 16th-century tomes in Latin to the first adventures of
Dennis the Menace have vanished. 

It is part of a long list of thefts from museums and libraries over the past
eight years revealed by a new crime audit. 

The haul varies from CDs of music the Rolling Stones recorded in the 1960s
and a 100-year-old Manchester City football programme, all taken from the
library, to the tooth of a sperm whale and three tail bones from a dwarf
dinosaur snatched from the Natural History Museum and a Greek marble head
worth £25,000 that has disappeared from the British Museum. 

Scotland Yard detectives are still looking for three Renaissance sculptures
of the entombment of Christ worth a total of £280,000 stolen from the
Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum at Christmas. 

They were taken in one of three thefts from the museum last year. A Meissen
figure of a gardener from the 1750s, worth £3,000, was among the items
stolen from the ceramics room. 

But who on earth could have been behind the theft of three lottery balls
from the V&A?s Theatre Museum in Covent Garden last year? Police are also
investigating an £85,000 theft of Chinese jewellery, mirrors and ornaments,
some 1,400 years old, from the British Museum last October. 

A man is on police bail after being arrested at the museum under allegedly
suspicious circumstances last month. 

The scale of the thefts is revealed in inventories of missing items released
under the Freedom of Information Act. By far the longest list is from the
British Library, which moved to its £511m Euston Road headquarters in 1997. 

The biggest confirmed theft is not of a Shakespeare folio but of comics such
as Eagle and The Dandy. Dan Dare, hero of Eagle, is missing along with the
first appearance of Dennis the Menace from the March 17 1951 issue of The

The thief ? believed to be a contractor ? who took Desperate Dan, Dennis and
other comic adventures from a storage area got away with a haul worth

The library said the comics topped the list of 43 items identified as stolen
since 1997. Others include an Ozzy Osbourne CD and a collection of maps of
Britain printed in 1626 and valued at £15,000. The prime suspect for the
latter theft is an Essex man jailed for 4½ years in December after stealing
50 maps from the National Library of Wales. 

But 7,905 other books and documents are reported missing because they are
not in the correct position on the library?s 400 miles of shelves. 

The oldest item listed as missing is a collection of works by the Roman poet
Horace, printed in 1508. Also missing are liturgies drawn up by Johann
Bugenhagen, a German Lutheran reformer, in 1540. 

There is something for every taste on the list: from a study of Victorian
tombs in the cemetery at Woking, Surrey, to a Ford Cortina manual. 

The library insists the books are not necessarily stolen. They could have
been misplaced on the shelves, the shelfmarks may have become detached from
the spines of books, or the library?s catalogue of 160m items may not have
been altered to reflect a changed shelfmark. 

?We have a constant process of auditing our collection,? said a spokeswoman.
?More than 2.8m items are consulted in our reading room every year so it
probably means most of these books were put back where they should not have

During its new audit the library found two books, each worth £100,000, that
had been misplaced. 

Martin Dyke of Henry Sotheran, the London antiquarian bookshop, said: ?It is
impossible to give a value to most of these missing books. Books aren?t
necessarily valuable because they are old. It depends on their condition,
where they were published and what printing process was used.? 

But Euan Kerr, editor of The Beano, said: ?There has been a monumental
growth in the value of comics. A first issue of The Dandy from 1937 can
fetch £20,000. The thieves knew what they were looking for.?

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