Documentary on One

The Caretaker

David James was Islamic curator at the Chester Beatty library from 1969 to '89 - This is the story of Ireland's biggest ever insider theft from a cultural institution ...

The Caretaker

Example 1 of part of the Islamic Collection at the Chester Beatty Library.
Example 1 of part of the Islamic Collection at the Chester Beatty Library.

The Caretaker tells the story of David James, who was single-handedly responsible for stealing hundreds of priceless, ancient manuscripts form the Chester Beatty Library, in what is to date Ireland's most significant insider theft from a cultural institution.

The Chester Beatty Library housed in the clock tower at Dublin Castle, is famous for its rare and beautiful artefacts from around the world collected by American miner Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. David James joined its staff in 1969, while it was still located in Shrewsbury Road. He cared for one of the finest collections of Islamic manuscripts in the world for a period of fourteen years before giving into temptation. During that period, he was solely responsible for cataloguing the work. In 1983, a set of circumstances arose that lead him to steal the first of many ancient manuscripts. Over the next six years, he meticulously covered his tracks by such methods as unpicking the binding of an ancient Koran, sliding out a double folio of manuscript before re-stitching the binding. He sold the manuscripts on the international art market in London for what would be millions today.

By 1991, he had been getting away with it for nearly a decade. But in July of that year it all came crashing down for David James, as through as series of coincidences, he was found out.

Brenda Tobin talks to the protagonists in this story: the whistleblower, the law enforcer, the curator, the journalist and the friends and in a manner of speaking the culprit himself and unravels this complex and compelling story.

Compiled and narrated by Brenda Tobin.

Sound Supervision by Mark McGrath.

Produced by Liam O'Brien

First broadcast Saturday 19th February 2011.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.

Documentary maker: Brenda Tobin

Brenda Tobin

More Information

Documentary maker: Liam O'Brien

More Information

If you have an Idea?

If you want to suggest a subject or you want to make a documentary? Let us know