ALMOST a quarter of a million books have gone missing from Waltham Forest libraries amid claims they have been burned or pulped.

That means there are 60 per cent fewer books in local libraries now than there were two years ago.

Library worker Lyndon Holmes told the Guardian: "We have to tell the public we can't get the books for them.

"When we have 15 million Mills and Boon, but no classics, it's just a shame. It's almost impossible now to do the job," the Unison union representative added.

"I know for a fact lots of them were taken to the tip, at least two van loads. There were all sorts, but I know there were brand new books."

All the borough's non-recyclable rubbish is taken to the London Waste depot at Edmonton to be burned. And anything not already sorted for recycling is destroyed along with the rest.

Mr Holmes said the books were dumped to make space in the refurbished Walthamstow Central Library and, by the time work was finished, there was not enough staff left in employment to sort them, give them away or sell them.

According to official figures presented to the council's cabinet in July, Waltham Forest's book stock has fallen from 1,738 per thousand people in 2004-5 to 717 per thousand people in April this year. That is a cull of 229,725 books, based on the current population of 225,000.

Nearly 75,000 books vanished during January and March this year alone.

David Brangwyn, a former librarian at Walthamstow Central Library, said staff had spent weeks packing and labelling books worth thousands of pounds before the library was refurbished but no-one knew where they went.

"They were perfectly good books and there was no reason to throw them away," he said.

Campaigners confronted the cabinet member for libraries, Cllr Geraldine Reardon, at Walthamstow West Community Council on Monday, demanding to know how many books had been destroyed.

"People tell me they've been pulped, burned, put in storage or sold off," said Michael Gold.

Cllr Reardon refused to comment at the meeting and when the Guardian later contacted her. She said she would answer campaigners' questions at the next meeting on January 28.