Prolific thief sold nearly 7,000 books stolen from Edinburgh universities and made over £30,000

A PROLIFIC thief who stole more than £80,000 of books from three university libraries which he sold onto online book stores has been jailed for 25 months.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 1:17 pm
Darren Barr
Darren Barr

Darren Barr, 28, targeted colleges in Edinburgh between October 2017 and September 2018 and pocketed £30,450 in the scam.

Sheriff Kenneth McGowan was told that Barr stole thousands of texts from Edinburgh University and Napier and Heriot-Watt universities.

He sold the texts onto e-commerce sites like Webuybooks and Ziffit for a profit.

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On Tuesday, at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Sheriff McGowan jailed Barr, of Kinross, Perthshire.

But Barr was caught after one PhD student went to borrow a book for her studies. The court heard that there were supposed to be six copies of the text in the library but none were available.

After buying a copy from Webuybooks, the woman discovered that the book she purchased had actually came from her college library.

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This helped police to build a case against Barr and they managed to bring him to justice.

On Tuesday, at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Sheriff McGowan jailed Barr, of Kinross, Perthshire.

He had pleaded guilty to four charges of theft earlier this year and sentence had been deferred for the court to obtain reports.

Passing sentence, Sheriff McGowan said: “What I have before me here is a course of conduct continuing over a lengthy period of 11 months during which a very substantial number of books were stolen from Napier University in particular.

“These were of a high value. There was clearly careful planning on your part.

“In my view a custodial sentence is appropriate.”

Prosecutors chose not to read the agreed narrative involving the case in open court. The Sheriff was handed a copy of the narrative and Mr Barr’s solicitor Murray Robertson then made a plea of mitigation on behalf of his client.

The narrative contained details which revealed that last year, the head of information services at Napier University was made aware of possible thefts from libraries at its campus sites at Craiglockhart and Sighthill in Edinburgh.

The witness was made aware of a student who had purchased two textbooks online through Amazon. On arrival both books were found to have a Napier University stamp.

The books had a red ‘withdrawn’ stamp on the inner cover. Staff within the library confirmed that the books were still shown on the university’s system.

Staff had concluded the books had been stolen from the library by an unknown thief. They also confirmed that the withdrawn stamp was fake and not one associated with the library.

A full stock check was conducted which confirmed that between 4,000 and 4,250 books had been stolen with around 3,500 books being taken from the Sighthill Campus alone. The value of these books was approximately £72,800.

The court heard that various inquiries were carried out with the online book company Webuybooks.

These inquiries resulted in it being discovered that the company had purchased hundreds of university textbooks from what appeared to be the same person linked to the same bank account.

Inquiries found this account was under an alias name. However, police discovered that the account belonged to Barr.

Searches of CCTV footage showed the accused arriving at various times at the library with a black rucksack and a large hold-all before leaving and driving away.

The accused was arrested in September 2018. His car was searched at this time and officers found a number of university textbooks were found along with a decoder and receipts.

His home address was also searched and a receipt for a courier found.

A courier box was then discovered by the police and found to contain more university books.

The court was also told that a female student made attempts to borrow a book she required for her PhD studies from the Heriot-Watt library.

Despite the system showing that six copies were available, none were on the shelf.

The court heard that because of this, she purchased a book from Amazon via the seller Webuybooks.

On arrival, she noticed that it had a Heriot-Watt stamp on it and a library reference.

The court was told that the woman took this to library staff and they checked the book’s withdrawn stamp. They then concluded that the stamp wasn’t the same one which the library used.

The court was told that university staff then contacted the police. A detective sergeant requested that the library carry out a search on their system for a particular user.

Library staff completed this and found an external user set up with the name ‘Alexander Barr’ who joined in October 2017.

Police then attended the library and showed staff a total of 230 books, all of which were identified as being stolen from their collection. The value of the books stolen was approximately £9,200.

Police approached Edinburgh University during the course of their inquiries. Staff in the library confirmed the accused had also set up a ‘visitor’ account.

Checks later confirmed 26 books had been stolen by the accused from the library with a value of approximately £1,000.

Police discovered that WeBuyBooks paid the accused £10,612 for 1,995 books. Ziffit paid £18,600 for 4,488 books and Zapper paid £1,238 for 253 books.

Barr’s solicitor Murray Robertson acknowledged that the thefts caused significant loss to the universities involved.

He told the sheriff that “clearly a custodial sentence” would be at the “forefront” of the judge’s mind.

But Mr Robertson argued that there might just be a direct alternative to custody through a community payback order which included unpaid work.

He added: “Given he is a man not without talents, it is perhaps the case that the CPO would better serve the community.”

However, Sheriff McGowan jailed Barr, who now faces a proceeds of crime action later this year.

Detective Sergeant Dougal Begg from Corstorphine CID said: "This is one of the most brazen and high-value thefts from our universities that I can ever recall and the amount of money Darren Barr was able to make by reselling stolen books is staggering."Had it not been for the staff at Edinburgh Napier University raising their concerns about missing stock, we may never have uncovered what Barr was up to and even larger quantities of books may have ended up being taken from the institutions."We conducted a thorough investigation that identified the scale of Darren Barr's offending and ensured he was brought to justice."All reports of acquisitive crime are treated with the utmost seriousness and a professional and robust inquiry will always be carried out to identify those responsible."