Antique map thief jailed

A PROLIFIC art thief who made £70,000 stealing rare map prints in a bid to fuel a chronic gambling addiction has been jailed for four-and-a-half-years.

A PROLIFIC art thief who made £70,000 stealing rare map prints in a bid to fuel a chronic gambling addiction has been jailed for four-and-a-half-years.

Former landscape gardener Peter Bellwood, 52, of Magazine Farm Way, Prettygate, Colchester, used a craft knife to "razor" antique prints from rare centuries old volumes.

In a six-month campaign he visited the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth six times and escaped with 50 rare prints.

Swansea Crown Court heard yesterday that Bellwood would fold the precious stolen maps, stuff them down the back of his trousers and walk out unsuspected.

As his crime guide, he used a book written by a man named David Bannister in 1983 which listed the top collections in 60 British libraries.

The volume was regarded as a "thieves handbook' among criminals and Bellwood was later to sell on his stolen prints to Mr Bannister, the court heard.

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All the illicit prints were sold to Mr Bannister and a second man named Michael Cox at separate meetings in Oxford and London.

On one occasion at a motorway service station, cheques or cash of up to £16,000 were handed over.

The court heard that corruption and using illicit sources is rife in the rare book trade and was an easy and lucrative source of ready cash.

When library officials in Wales were eventually alerted to the thefts they discovered more than 105 maps missing.

Bellwood was jailed after admitting six separate charges of theft of antique maps at an earlier hearing in Swansea.

Creighton Harvey, prosecuting, said that Bellwood gave himself up after seeing himself on the BBC's Crimewatch programme.

He told police that library security generally was weak and the library had already been the victim of undiscovered thefts before his visit.

Mr Harvey said that Bellwood's criminal career began in 1961 at the then Leeds City Juvenile Court when he would have been aged just nine.

He said his career stealing rare literary antiques began in 1988 when he broke into a bookshop and stole volumes worth £1,250.

He was jailed for four years in 1996 for similar offences to those today but restarted his life of crime soon after his release in 1999.

Peter Caldwell, mitigating, said Bellwood had tried to lead an honest life on his release from prison but was brought down by his chronic gambling habit.

"He was in the grip of the addiction of gambling and he would spend well beyond his means. He was frequently betting on horses with pitiful success.'

As a result he turned to the only thing he knew which represented a quick and easy way to make cash.

He had finally overcome his addiction and decided to give himself in and "do the right thing' when he saw himself on TV.

He then made a "full and candid admission' to the police and is now filled with "remorse and regret' for his past life.

Passing sentence Judge Christopher Morton said: "I sentence you on the basis that there is a substantial change in your life since 2000.

"You get credit for your plea which must be substantial as you gave yourself in.'

After the hearing a spokesman for the National Library of Wales said it was "disappointed' to have lost valuable items from its collection.

Andrew Green said: "Bellwood was a clever, professional and experienced thief, who knew exactly what he was searching for.

"He has not only deceived the National Library of Wales but has apparently stolen from other distinguished libraries as well, including the British Library in London.'

He added that the library had carried out a comprehensive review of its security since Bellwood's crimes.

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