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Rare books worth more than £2.5m that were stolen from a warehouse in west London in a heist have been found buried under the floor of a house in rural Romania.

The recovery of the 200 books, which include first editions of significant works by Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton, is the culmination of a three-year police operation that involved raids on 45 addresses across three countries and led to charges against 13 people. They were taken by thieves in January 2017 who cut holes in the roof of a warehouse in Feltham then abseiled in, dodging sensors. The men were identified as being part of a Romanian organised crime gang. The gang is responsible for a series of high-value warehouse burglaries across the UK.

Officers discovered the books underground during a search of a house in the region of Neamț, in north-eastern Romania. After the trials of most of the men involved in the case, who were tracked down after a DNA sample, which had escaped the clean-up, was found on a headrest in the car, the books were eventually tracked down to Neamt in north-east Romania. Local police officers who searched the property found the books, which included a rare edition of Newton’s Principia, stacked in neatly wrapped packages in a cement pit.

The hoard includes rare versions of Dante and sketches by the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, as well as the titles by Galileo and Isaac Newton dating back to the 16th and 17th Centuries.

“These books are extremely valuable, but more importantly they are irreplaceable and are of great importance to international cultural heritage,” said Det Insp Andy Durham, from the Metropolitan police’s Specialist Crime South command.