No jail for man who stole books worth nearly €200,000

John Nulty
John Nulty

A former librarian who stole hundreds of rare antique books worth nearly €200,000 from the National Library of Ireland has received a suspended sentence.

Lawyers for John Nulty (37) said that for nine years he was compulsively taking the books and hoarding them in his home.

When gardaí arrived at his Dublin home in April 2013 with a search warrant they found “an Aladdin's cave” where Nulty was living surrounded by books.

Nulty of Portersgate, Clonsilla, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to eight sample counts of theft from a total of 216 charges.

Most of the charges relate to theft from the National Library between July 5, 2004 and April 24, 2013.

Nulty also admitted to two counts of stealing from Brother Tom Connolly at the Allen Library, North Richmond Street, between November 2003 and July 2004, when he worked there. His only other previous conviction is for a minor public order offence.

The books taken included Ernest Hemingway's 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' and books on Anglo Irish history and Celtic mythology.

Some of the books were first editions and some were signed while others were valuable because of their historical and national interest. Nulty would put the books in his bag and walk out with them.

Judge Martin Nolan said that Nulty was an eccentric man who became obsessed with hoarding the books and took some satisfaction from having them.

He said that if Nulty had sold all the books and made a profit, a jail term would be inevitable. He noted that, given most of the books had been recovered intact, the actual loss to the library was around €5,000.

He said it would be unjust to imprison him immediately and he suspended a sentence of two and a half years on condition he is of good behaviour for that period.

Detective Garda Declan O'Brien told Garret Baker BL, prosecuting, that the thefts came to light when Gerard Long, an assistant keeper at the National Library, noticed that two books which were part of the Sean O'Casey library were for sale online.

The books had been sold by Nulty to a seller of rare books who had in turn placed them for sale online. Nulty had kept most of the other books and stored them in his home and also at an off site storage facility.

Some of the books were stored in conservation boxes to protect them. Det Gda O'Brien said the estimated value of the stolen books was €199,322.

Sean Gillane SC, defending, said that at one point Nulty considered burning all the books in order to put it all behind him but his respect and love for their value prevented him from doing this. He said that Nulty felt a certain relief when he was caught.

Counsel said that Nulty came from a “terribly decent” family and was “terribly remorseful” and sorry for the shame it had brought them and for breaching the trust of his employers.

Det Gda O'Brien told the court that books were taken from various collections belonging to the National Library, including those of Sean O'Casey and Sheehy Skeffington.

Nulty sold some books when he fell on hard times financially in 2013 but he kept most of the books. His bedroom and a box room in his home were full of books.

Nulty helped the investigators identify from the “huge number” of books which were his own and which were materials stolen from the libraries.

Most of the books Nulty had sold on were recovered and returned to the libraries.

The court heard there was no set pattern to how he would take the books and he would sometimes take one and other times he would take a bag of books.

He would compulsively grab books from the shelves when he was re-shelving other borrowers' books.

Mr Gillane said that Nulty had earlier worked as a hospital porter before using a FAS scheme to get work in the National Library.

Mr Gillane said that after leaving school Nulty had withdrawn into himself and taking the books was the only stimulus or buzz in his life.

“Like any other compulsion he didn't appreciate the way it was getting away from him,” counsel said.