Thursday, October 26, 2006

Book thief gets medal

Well goodness me. Or words to that effect.

At breakfast this morning, I very nearly spilt me coffee, not only over the Times but also on to a nice clean tablecoth. And that, I can assure you, would have been seriously bad news. I still have some way to go to overcome the bad feeling generated (months ago) by the incident of the red wine and the crisp white bed sheets. (They were our best sheets; and brand new; and it doesn't come out.)

But let us return to the Times. If you were here in August, you may recall that Clive Keeble, an independent bookseller with remarkable levels of energy and optimism, succeeded in unmasking a book thief of considerable proportions. Manchester Central Library had lost more than 400 valuable antiquarian books (estimated value £250,000) before an American bookdealer asked Clive's advice about buying some of them on eBay; whereupon Clive spent a whole day doing Inspector Knacker's work for him, and at the end of that time was able to give Knacker the name, address, and no doubt inside-leg measurement of the offender. The story, complete with a copy of Clive's statement to the Manchester police, was reported here on 1 August.

The book thief turned out to be one Norman Buckley, employed as a librarian by the Manchester city council. On 25 August we noted that Buckley was due to be sentenced that day. But then he wasn't. And now he has been.

And here's the bit from today's Times that made me cough and splutter. Mr Buckley, says the Times, walked free.

The court was told that Mr Buckley turned to theft after becoming depressed when his girlfriend left him for another man. They'd been together nine years. And it was Christmas time, too. Enough to make any chap start nicking things, as I am sure you will agree.

So the motive for the thefts was not financial at all. Goodnesss me no. (True, he had, halfheartedly, sold a few books for £11,000, but mostly he just liked to have them.)

No, the true motive for the thefts was quite different. And very human. Mr Buckley's lawyer, a perfectly lovely girl called Denise Fitzpatrick -- a lady who possesses, it seems, a smile which can melt the heart of the stoniest Judge -- told the court that stealing the books provided Buckley with an 'emotional release from the turmoil he found himself in', and that he was now 'filled with remorse'.

Result: the Judge sentenced Buckley to 65 weeks in prison, suspended for two years. What this means is that he doesn't go to prison at all. The sentence is only activated if he commits another offence within two years. Oh, and he also has to join Boy George in doing 250 hours of community service.

Thus is justice served in the England of today.

Personally I would have sentenced Buckley to the bastinado at best; and, if my ulcer had been playing up after that breakfast kipper, I would probably have had him burnt at the stake. But then I am a mediaevalist at heart, and quite out of place in the modern world.

There is no sign, by the way, that Buckley has lost his job with the Manchester library service. In all probability he has not only kept it but been given a promotion. And, of course, he will be offered counselling; from the public purse. He deserves nothing less.

Perhaps his girlfriend will come back in time for this Christmas. Who knows. If only for the sake of good order among the bookshelves of Manchester Central Library, one must earnestly hope so.


Anne Weale said...

You are not alone. In the Bookworm household, coughing and spluttering with indignation at the latest news happens pretty well every day.

Maria said...

Sad. Very very sad. I wish I could say that we do a better job over here in the US, but I am quite certain that I could find similar stories of injustice by looking at only one paper or two. In fact Reader's Digest has taken to printing 2 or 3 such stories in their booklets each month.

At the very least the judge could have sentenced him to hard labor working in a chicken farm. As it is, he'll probably be able to count his library job as community service...

Anonymous said...


Firstly, Norman Buckley did in fact lose his job at a disciplinary hearing which apparently was held in the Spring.

The orginal query was raised by Vic Zoschak on the book mailing list Bookfinder Insider, rather than directly to myself. The investigations were a team effort from the international booktrade : I was just the fulcrum "portal".

I do not want to comment about the sentence imposed on the thief, as the judge would have been privy to reports which would are unlikely to ever become public.

I am however, extremely concerned about the dilatory manner in which large councils handle our literary heritage which was often donated by Victorian or Edwardian benefactors.

Rightly or wrongly I suspect that the potential loss to Manchester City and its residents could have been far greater than has even been hinted at in the press.

Library heads, heads of Culture, or whoever holds overall responsibility for books within the local public library system - especially when they are of similar financial and literary value to those stolen by Norman Buckley - must ensure that they are kept under adequate security with decent archive records. Many of the books which Norman Buckley stole were probably not even accessible to students, scholars or those who simple wanted to improve their knowledge. If such books are to be part of a library, then they must - under proper supervision - be accessible to library users.

If there is a library in this country which has not yet dumped such books in skips (yes it has happened in some libraries) sold them off via auction (yes that has happened, as with Warrington) or merely hidden them in the vaults of some museum, then I hope that what has happened at Manchester Central Library is a wake up call.

The books which Normal Buckley stole are this country's heritage : Manchester Free Library, opened in the 1850's, was the first such in this country - surprise, surprise, the government of the day refused to make any financial donation.

If we as a society think so little of donation books within the library system then it is hardly surprising that there are so few modern benefactors willing to leave their books to the public libraries.

Lastly, if anybody else thinks that they are going to steal books and get a kick out of selling them on eBay, a word of warning : the eyes of the international booktrade watch transactions on eBay, the next thief might well end up doing a very long prison stretch.

Anonymous said...

GOB: A drop of white wine on that red wine stain should clean it up a treat

Anonymous said...

And if white wine fails, try vodka.

Anonymous said...

Come one people. Let the punishment fit the crime, he didn't exactly run amok here, nor did he wound, cause anyone undue harm, emotional or otherwise. He had a clean slate before he got nicked and once nicked he made every effort to admit the crime and also help the police recover a large percentage of the blag.

This man has been sacked and he will probably never hold another job in his field ever again. On top of that he has a sentence hanging over his head should he fall from grace and he will now spend 250 hours thinking about how much he has lost.

That not enough for you guys?

Seems like enough to me. After all, we are talking about books here, not actual human lives. Even if said books are heritage property, it is perhaps an over reaction to have the man drawn and quartered for their theft.

More interesting (at least I think so) is that there has been no investigation into how this could have happened. Was this man the top of the chain in his library? Was there no system in place to stop such attempts? Or was the whole thing based on trust. If so, then this particular establishment can consider this their wakeup call.

Dick Headley said...

I would have sentenced the bastard to ten years erasing the comments and underlinings left by some other bastards.

JodyTresidder said...

"I would have sentenced the bastard to ten years erasing the comments and underlinings left by some other bastards."

Brilliant, dh!

Anonymous said...

It's not that the guy should have received a stiffer sentence but the reason why his sentences was so light.

If you steal to feed your family you're a proper ctiminal. If you steal because someone hurt your teddy when you were little, why, we've got lots of helpful social workers to help you in-between Neighbours and Jerry.

A woman in the UK just got probation for infantacide. A man in Scotland got three years for raping a three-year old child.

The library didn't even miss the books. Losing his job is enough. A seasoned criminal would never have been caught by a bunch of bookworms and he really should have taken much more.

And it serves you right for drinking wine in bed.

Anonymous said...

>>The library didn't even miss the books. Losing his job is enough. A seasoned criminal would never have been caught by a bunch of bookworms and he really should have taken much more.<<

But the fact is that the library should bloody well have noticed that they had books missing : why was there no physical stocktake of the stock which is our nation's inheritance let alone our heritage.

Don't put the chances down so low : Ken Saunders, the highly regarded bookdealer's security expert from Utah. has been threatened with his life and as well as taking on associates of the Russian Mafia.

Ken is a role model for many antiquarian bookdealers : we "ride until we get our man", just like the old time sherriffs.

Anonymous said...

Clive, I wasn't taking a potshot at you. Indeed your efforts were beyond admirable and I applaud them with gusto. (There's an afternoon television show in this you know - I could write a little Bachzart pastiche for the theme tune if you like.)

I was trying (in my ham-fisted way) to allude to the library in question, and the rather lame-brained image judges seem to be determined to paint of themselves in their apparent (countrywide) determination to swallow hooks and sinkers and stuff.

Don't you agree that this crime was too easy? Would not you yourself have got away with it if you'd had a mind to?

Are we not here, dealing with a criminal of the dimwit dilettante variety? Isn't this Fargo?

But your efforts have, I believe, uncovered some important things about the way we treasure our treasures in this country.

Again, I applaud you. (A half-decent filmmaker could sort this. It's a job for a television cook or two.)

This guy should have been put away so that I could have argued he shouldn’t have; in light of the way we fete our rapists and murderers.

Anonymous said...


I realised that you weren't taking a pot shot at me.

Throughout this country we have local government heads of department and local council cabinet holders who are not prepared to accept that they have ultimate responsibility for some very important literary artefacts. Books and and paper records are not part of the agenda with these officials and councillors.

Yes, this crime was ludicrously easy to execute ; hopefully by now far stricter security has been introduced not just in Manchester Central but also in many similar establishments.

I think that I have said enough on the matter.

Maria said...

Just books...well then, I suppose it must be okay to steal "just jewelery" also so long as no one dies or anything. Perhaps if I work at a jewelery store and just pocket a gem or two of the same value as the books? 20k here or there, no one died, everything okay!

Of course as is mentioned, getting away with the jewels may be harder because gosh, someone might be taking inventory.

The fact remains this guy might well have continued his "side career." At what point is it damaging enough that he should do jail time?

As to those other light sentences, well that too is a mistake we make here in the US. They go free to do the same crimes and that in itself is criminal. Beyond belief.

Maria said...

Whoops. I meant jewelry. It's either the head cold or my lack of attention span. Perhaps I should steal something I can spell. Cars. That's better.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, they were valuable books and yes, yes it would be a shame if they went away... Point is, he was never ever going to get away with this. Even the dried up excuse for security in this library would have one day figured out that there were a lot of empty bookshelves and not many books... And then of course the list of suspects would be very small. One very quick search warrent and away we go.

So, lets just be clear here. Stealing is wrong. The man was punished. The man has no future now. His chances of getting a good job, or indeed any kind of job are slim. He will probably end up sweeping floors or washing dishes for the rest of his life. That is the impact of being caught out in crime. It doesn't matter how much time he does or doesn't do in prison, what matters is that his life is pretty much over now...

And of course he has only himself to blame.

Now that... THAT is a hard, heavy weight to carry. Meanwhile, the people who could have stopped this crime, his bosses will no doubt get nothing more than a slap on the wrist and the people who bought the books and then MUST have realised what was going on, but chose to look the other way, will not even get that.

So you see, stealing is stealing and the punishment of crime is a little less straightforward than any of you are prepared to see.

Society is judged by the way it treats its criminals. Next time you are being judgemental, try to remember that but for the grace of god you could go there too...

Maria said...

Dearest Dobby,

I do think that the point many of us were trying to make (badly perhaps in my case) is that in general, people make this sort of mistake (stealing) and then repeat the offense. Who is to say that this man wouldn't go work at another library after he had pilfered most of the good books from this one?

Who is to say he won't get another good job? Happens here (US) all the time. The criminal simply lies on the resume. A background check won't pull up anything because basically in certain plea deals it won't stay on the record. In some cases, background checks aren't even run--too busy, too lazy, too incompetent, whatever the reason.

Eventually someone hires the criminal. If this guy waits a few years, he could easily apply at another library and low and behold I would expect he could get a job. Of course, maybe things really are different across the pond.

Now as to the management slap on the wrist, you are completely correct. :>)

ModernityBlog said...

I am attempted to say that Norman Buckley’s supervisor and the chief librarian of Manchester should be reprimanded for dereliction of duty and lack of supervision.

If these books are as valuable as is suggested then they should have been guarded with greater care, and methods put in place to stop theft by staff, which is common in most organisations. That responsibility falls to the chief librarian of Manchester and to the supervisory staff to ensure that pilfering is kept to an absolute minimum.

If they do not have the resources or the money to safeguard the books in their charge then they should state it clearly and for all to hear.