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Raymond Scott

Dilettante with a penchant for vintage champagne who claimed to have found a Shakespeare First Folio but who was convicted of handling stolen property

RAYMOND Scott, who has died aged 55, was a self-professed Ferrari-owning connoisseur of vintage champagne, beautiful girls and Cuban cigars, and sparked a literary sensation in 2008 when he claimed to have unearthed a 1623 First Folio of the collected plays of Shakespeare, often described as the most important book in the English language.

The discovery was all the more astounding as Scott was previously unknown to academia. In fact, when he walked into the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, carrying the battered old tome, he appeared to have arrived straight from the beach. "He was dressed in tropical clothing; loafers with no socks and a lot of jewellery -- rings and bracelets," recalled the head librarian, Richard Kuhta, who proceeded to watch in astonishment as Scott "took the book, sort of spun it around, [and] started flipping through the pages like he was handling an airport novel".

Scott wanted the book authenticated, with a view to selling it at auction, where it would have fetched several million pounds. He said that he had turned it up in Cuba, where he had a villa. For experts at the Folger, it initially looked as though they had got their hands on one of only nine missing copies of the First Folio.

But having authenticated the tattered, coverless book, they came up with a problem. Although altered and mutilated, the copy was identical in a host of respects to one stolen from Durham University in 1998. When police in England eventually tracked Scott down, they found that the "globe-trotting playboy millionaire" was, in fact, an unemployed middle-aged man on income support who lived with his mother in a former council house on the outskirts of Sunderland, just 10 miles from the scene of the theft. He also had a string of convictions for various minor offences, including shoplifting.

The game seemed to be up. But as the inquiry proceeded and evidence against him mounted, Scott refused to come clean. Instead, Canute-like, he simply ignored the waves of reality lapping at his burlesque fantasy world. On the day police arrived at his home, he told them that if he was going to be in custody after 6pm he would need them to deliver two bottles of vintage champagne. Later, when he was summoned to answer bail, detectives were astonished to witness him arrive in a stretch Humvee. He emerged on to the pavement clutching a bottle of champagne, a huge cigar, and, most bafflingly of all, a Pot Noodle.

Raymond Ricketts Scott was born on February 12, 1957. His father, also Raymond, was an electrical engineer and his mother, Hannah, a social worker. Raymond Jnr was educated at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle.

He did not attend university and from the age of 18 never had a regular job, preferring instead to describe himself as a "dilettante". He lived off his parents' savings, part of which he inherited after his father died in 2004.

The money helped finance the acquisition of a silver Ferrari, parked and polished relentlessly but not driven (owing to Scott's fondness for drink). He also had an outlandish designer wardrobe, which included coats with oversized fur collars, designer sunglasses which he would wear inside and out, and rather too-tight white trousers.

Revelling in the publicity, Scott arrived for his trial in 2010 wearing army fatigues, apparently in homage to Che Guevara. He had arrived at a previous hearing in a horse-drawn carriage wearing a kilt of Royal Stewart tartan (claiming that Bonnie Prince Charlie was an ancestor); as the judge began the session, Scott answered each question with: "Aye, that I am."

His defence was simple. A frequent visitor to Cuba, he had met a 21-year-old dancer in October 2007 called Heidy Rios. It was, he said, "love at first sight". She introduced him to Odeiny 'Danny' Perez, a former major in the Cuban army and bodyguard to Fidel Castro, in whose book collection, Scott claimed, was the First Folio.

The prosecution had a different account, suggesting that Scott's infatuation with Rios left him heavily in debt, forcing him to sell the book, which he had stolen in 1998. Scott did not deny sending Rios £10,000 in the months after meeting her, or being £90,000 in debt on more than a dozen credit cards. Perez, meanwhile, insisted that the book was not his.

Eventually, even Scott's own brief despaired, and chose to portray his client as a pathetic victim of a Cuban conspiracy. The defendant, his lawyer said, was "just the sort of bizarre, naive, out-of-the-mainstream type of character who could be taken in by someone much more worldly and cynical in Cuba. Is this naive mummy's boy out of his depth? He's someone who genuinely believes a 21-year-old dancer is his fiancee. Ladies and gentlemen, there's no fool like an old fool."

Scott was convicted of handling stolen property and removing stolen property from Britain, and sentenced to eight years. The judge noted that he had acted out of a desire to finance an "extremely ludicrous playboy lifestyle".

In jail he found that his crime had brought him a measure of the fame he craved. "I was a bit of a celebrity," he noted, "welcomed with open arms by the names, the faces, the chaps who matter." There were other benefits too. He was forced to stop drinking ("I'm looking at my time as extensive rehab, and of course it's free. I've never felt so fit.") and, as for his mother, "she seems to be thriving".

But the length of his sentence, prisoner A1347AV revealed after six months inside, had left him "devastated ... a waking nightmare".

Though he had vowed to appeal, Raymond Scott was found dead in his cell last Wednesday morning.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent