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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 15:53 GMT
70,000 rare map thief is jailed
Peter Bellwood

A man who stole dozens of antique maps from the National Library of Wales has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Peter Bellwood, from Colchester, Essex, used a razor to remove 50 pages from rare atlases in Aberystwyth from March 2000 to August 2000, and sold them to collectors for 70,000.

He was jailed at Swansea Crown Court after admitting six charges of theft at a hearing earlier this year.

The former landscape gardener, aged 52, was arrested in July 2004.

His thefts included pages from atlases dating back to the 17th Century and produced by Mercator and John Speed.

He would use a hobby knife to cut the maps out... then fold them up and place them down the back of his trousers
Creighton Harvey, prosecuting

The library claimed 105 maps were missing after Bellwood's crimes were exposed but the six charges he admitted related to the theft of only 50 prints.

He said security at the library was so lax that others had already successfully targeted it before him.

Creighton Harvey, prosecuting, said Bellwood had travelled to Aberystwyth six times with the sole intention of stealing maps.

Once at the library, he would sign in using his own name and request rare folio editions of atlases, which he was allowed to handle in a map room.

"He would use a hobby knife to cut the maps out," Mr Harvey told the court.

"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 secreted about his person."

A book by an academic, David Bannister, which lists the top 60 collections in UK libraries, was regarded by criminals as a "thieves' handbook".

Bellwood had used it to choose which rare prints to steal, some of which he later sold to Mr Bannister for cash.

Peter Caldwell, defending, said that Bellwood had been released from prison for similar offences in 1999 and tried to lead an honest life.

"He had managed to find work but he had succumbed to a chronic condition and that is gambling," said Mr Caldwell.

"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."

Bellwood had finally managed to overcome his addiction and establish a stable life with a partner when he saw himself on TV.

As a result he had discussed with his partner giving himself up and decided it was "high time to do the right thing".

Mr Caldwell added: "What he did is to make a full and very candid admission of the matters alleged against him. He admitted what he had done."

The National Library of Wales said afterwards it had reviewed its security and was "disappointed" to have lost valuable items from its collection.

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

See the art thief at work


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