Hundreds of internationally important and irreplaceable books worth more than £2.5m that were stolen in a daring heist by abseiling burglars have been returned to their rightful owners. Metropolitan Police announced the successful conclusion on Tuesday of a near four-year police operation investigating the Mission Impossible-style theft of books that included rare works by Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo, and the 18th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Goya.
DI Andy Durham, who led the investigation, said seeing the reaction of each victim on being reunited with their books had been an emotional experience. One man, Alessandro Bisello, “was so happy and said with great gusto: ‘Tonight we drink like lions!’. This made my day, seeing his reaction and joy.”
The books were stolen from a warehouse in west London in January 2017, where they were being stored on the way to a book fair in the US. Burglars cut holes in the roof before abseiling down to avoid sensors that would have set off alarms. Over five hours, they winched their haul up in 16 large bags. The books were later smuggled to Romania by organized criminals. The books were eventually tracked down to Neamț, in north-east Romania, where they were discovered stacked in neatly wrapped packages in a concrete pit. Experts from the National Library of Romania helped with the investigation, storage, and safe return of the books.
Twelve men were jailed at Kingston crown court last month for their role in crimes committed across the UK. The men were identified as being part of a Romanian organized crime group responsible for a string of high-value warehouse burglaries in the UK. Four of the books are still missing and police are keen to hear from anyone with information. They are an illuminated manuscript attributed to the circle of Attavante degli Attavanti, published in north Italy in 1480, valued at about £24,000; a photo album of pictures taken in China and published in 1920, worth about £1,500; a collection of pressed butterflies, worth about £4,000; and La Saggia Pazzia by Antonio Maria Spelta, published between 1606 and 1607 and valued at about £1,500.