Rare books worth £2.5 million ($3.31m) stolen in a burglary in England were returned to their owners.
The culturally significant books, including works by Sir Isaac Newton and Italian astronomer Galileo, were stolen in London and smuggled to Romania by an organised crime gang.
The rightful owners have now been reunited with the books, some of which had suffered water damage and broken spines, at the National Library of Romania.
"It was lovely to see the joy of each victim being reunited with these irreplaceable books," said Detective Inspector Andy Durham, who led the investigation.
“In particular, the moment when one of the victims – Alessandro Bado – set eyes on the books at the library, and once he had seen the condition of a few of the most important books that he was emotionally attached to, he was so happy and said with great gusto: ‘Tonight we drink like lions’. This made my day, seeing his reaction and joy,” he said.
The recovered books, which are of international importance and irreplaceable, included work by 18th-century Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
Officers from the specialist crime unit at London's Metropolitan Police, Romanian police and the Italian Carabinieri all helped in the three-year investigation.
Twelve Romanians were jailed at Kingston Crown Court in early October for the commission of burglaries at commercial premises across the UK.
Experts from the Romanian national library helped identify the books and kept them in safe storage until they were returned to their legal owners.
Of the books recovered, 83 suffered some damage, ranging from slight to severe, mostly water damage from being hidden underground, and spine damage because of the way they were transported across Europe.
Two books were so severely damaged that they have been initially assessed as beyond repair, while another 28 were classed as substantially damaged.
"The experience of returning the books was very positive and exciting," said one relieved book owner, Natalina Bado, from Italy.
"Reviewing and touching our books three years and nine months after the theft was a profound joy. Every time we were about to view a book we had many expectations regarding the condition and when we found our works in good condition it was a great happiness for us, just as it was a deep pain to see some damaged books, a feeling partly shared also from all of you and the library staff," she said.
Another owner, Alessandro Riquier, also from Italy, said: "After three and a half years, finally this terrible story has a very happy ending.
"I went to Bucharest full of hope but also a little bit scared about the damaged books. I was very excited and it was a great joy to handle my books again and to see that apart from one missing, and four books with variable damage, all the books were in good condition."
Four books have not been found. Anyone with information about their whereabouts should contact UK police on +44 (0) 7741703053.
The unrecovered books are:
- Attavante Degli Attavanti, illuminated manuscript on vellum – Book of Hours (Use of Rome) – Cycle of Attavante Degli Attavanti, published in north Italy in 1480, valued at about £24,000.
- Vues Du Honan – Chemin de Fer, by 'China' – a photo album of pictures taken in China, published in 1920, valued at about £1,500.
- A collection of nature-pressed butterflies by NAWA, value about £4,000.
- La Saggia Pazzia – by Antonio Maria Spelta, published between 1606 and 1607, valued at about £1,500.