Man charged over stolen artefact


A MAN arrested and charged with possession of a £200,000 manuscript stolen from the Chester Beatty Library and Gallery of Oriental Art in Dublin in 1991 was remanded yesterday for trial at London Crown Court.

The 13th century artefact has been recovered by the police in good condition. The manuscript is a Turkish Qur'an, entitled Suwar Al Aqalim, or Masalik almamalik, representing a geography of the world. It is illustrated with 21 maps, and a 17th century copy of it is still in the Chester Beatty Library in Ballsbridge, Dublin.

Mr Ronald Hartigan (62), unemployed and with an address in London, was committed for trial in proceedings before the City of London Magistrates' Court yesterday. He was arrested on October 23rd last year at Bishopsgate. He denies charges that he was involved in the theft. The trial is expected to take place later this year.

The bound Qur'an was on display in the Chester Beatty library at the time of the break in through a french window in July, 1991.

Other material taken was recovered subsequently. The library initially played down the significance of the theft, which was described as "highly professional", but it is understood this manuscript had not been valued.

The 1991 robbery has no links to the theft of other Islamic material from the library in the late 1980s. The library's former Islamic curator, Dr David James, served a jail sentence when he was found guilty by Dublin Circuit Criminal Court three years ago of the theft of artefacts valued at almost £450,000 from 1983 to 1989.

Most of this material has been recovered by the Garda with Dr James's assistance, but some was destroyed in a warehouse fire in London. Other items traced to Saudi Arabia and Syria were not recovered. A civil action by the library against Dr James is still pending.

The Chester Beatty Library is due to move to the refurbished Clock Tower at Dublin Castle next year. The building is to be used this year for the EU presidency.