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Norman Buckley, 44, admitted stealing over 400 works from the library worth around £200,000, but although the majority were found in a police raid on his flat, between 40 and 45 books remain unaccounted for after he sold them on the internet.

Judge Clement Goldstone QC said he could not sentence Buckley until the total financial loss was known. He said that the defendant’s internet sales account should be checked and details of the buyers be ascertained.

Greater Manchester Police believe their investigation into this matter has been “detailed and comprehensive”.

A police spokesperson said: “A dedicated officer is making on-going enquiries with eBay to locate these missing titles.

“During the course of the interview, Buckley claimed to have sold a number of books to places such as Germany and the USA.

“The investigators have recovered over 90 per cent of the books stolen and are still working to recover those books that are outstanding.”

The thefts came to light after a book collector from Somerset contacted the library after seeing one of its books on the internet auction website.

It is believed that Buckley made up to £19,000 through selling the stolen books. Amongst the books not yet recovered is a 1654 compilation of poems by John Donne which Buckley sold for £1800.

Buckley’s lawyers claimed he had an addiction to the internet stemming from the breakdown of a relationship. He is due to be sentenced in October after psychiatric reports.

Anyone with information about the untraced books is asked to contact Greater Manchester Police on 0161 856 3036 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.