A library assistant who stole ancient and rare books worth #175,000 to sell on the internet walked free from court yesterday.

Norman Buckley, 44, took more than 455 ancient books, posters and other documents while working at Manchester’s Central Library. He was sentenced to 65 weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years, and told to perform 250 hours of community service.

Judge Clement Goldstone QC said the sentence was suspended because Buckley had helped police find the books and so many had been recovered.

Police were alerted to the thefts when a rare book dealer in Somerset saw the library’s stamp on one of the books on sale online. Buckley's haul included a 16th century edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer worth #35,000, a 1654 publication of romantic poet John Donne’s Elegies that he sold for #1,800, a book of letters about the death of Louis XVI and a 1675 edition of English historian Willam Camden’s The History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth. Officers also found political writings by Coleridge, Shelley and Keats.

Between January last year and March this year, Buckley took the books in twos and threes from the library’s private collection. A security system failed to alert library staff to the thefts. Buckley sold only 44 of the books.