A LIBRARIAN told a court this week the moment he realised an ancient Shakespeare first edition he’d been asked to authenticate was a priceless relic stolen a decade earlier.

Staff at the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC called in the British Embassy, Durham Police and the FBI after being given the badly-damaged book by Raymond Scott in 2008.

Scott, 53, posed as a wealthy international playboy who claimed to have discovered the Shakespeare’s First Folio when holidaying in Cuba.

But experts at the library soon discovered the artefact, which had pages missing and its bindings and cover removed, was a 1623 first printing of the bard’s collected works stolen in a raid at Durham University in December 1998.

Mr Scott, who has denied theft, handling and transporting stolen goods, intended to sell the book at auction then share the money with friends in Cuba, a trial at Newcastle Crown Court heard.

Experts estimated the first folio to be worth £1m, even in its damaged state.

Librarian Richard Kuhta, of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, was suspicious when Mr Scott handed him the book in June 2008.

Mr Kuhta said Scott pulled from his briefcase the First Folio, which was wrapped in a carrier bag.

He said: ‘‘I was startled by the way in which the book was being handled and by the sudden realisation that the man seemed to know it was a first edition.

‘‘I had never had someone come into the library and put a Folio in front of me, much less a First Folio.”

Mr Scott left the book with the Folger staff, who contacted an independent expert.

He immediately identified it as the Folio stolen from Durham University’s Palace Green library years earlier.

Mr Kuhta said: ‘‘No two copies are the same. Each copy has its own DNA, it is like a fingerprint which identifies which is copy one, which is copy two, which is copy three right the way through to copy 228.

‘‘My heart sank. It was a feeling of sadness to think we were dealing with stolen property.”

Scott, of Manor Grange, Wingate, had hoarded the Folio at the two-up two-down former council home he shared with his elderly mother Hannah, in Washington, Tyne and Wear, since stealing it in 1998, the court heard.

The trial continues.