TENS of thousands of library books have been destroyed in the past two years - but Waltham Forest Council says it does not know how many it had in the first place.

The borough has now admitted the number of library items fell 239,344 between 2005 and March 2007, as we reported last week, despite first telling us our report was innacurate.

Many titles and other items disappeared in a mass cull of unused and outdated books.

Last year staff removed all items which had not been borrowed for five years, and this year they got rid of books which had not been borrowed in three years.

Reference books were dumped if they were out of date or are now available online, such as the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Library campaigner Janet Wright said: "That's pretty horrific. We've got them bang to rights. They've lost lots of books."

Library worker Lyndon Holmes said many of the eventually destroyed books had not been lent because they had been in storage.

"When I used to work at Leytonstone Library, we had three floors of reserve stock and that's now gone. I know there were books upstairs in St James's Street Library for five or six years, we just had nowhere to put them. We were waiting for a stock policy which never came."

He said librarians, who no longer exist in the service, were too busy serving the public because of a lack to staff to work on stock control and the service used to store rare, valuable and out-of-print books which were often sent to other libraries, including the British Library.

A council spokesman said fewer books went missing than appeared on paper because the original figures were "enormously innaccurate".

During a full stock take in March this year, 109,099 items were wiped from the list because they could not be found.

He added: "We can confirm that all books disposed of were recycled at the Edmonton facility. None were burned. We realise this was poor practice, but we are now back on track and have a properly updated catalogue."

Speaking about the recent £10 milion investment in libraries, the council's cabinet member for leisure, arts and culture, Cllr Geraldine Reardon said: "Residents have access to better facilities, more items for borrowing and a service that is specifically tailored to their needs. We are committed to improving our services, not destroying them," she said.

LIBRARY campaigners said the affair of the missing books was "a scandal" and pledged not to let the matter drop.

Caroline Molloy, of the St James Street Library Campaign, said the waste of books was outrageous.

"No-one asked us, the Waltham Forest residents who have paid for these books through our taxes, if these books should be culled and the decision was taken by people who are not themselves librarians.

"These books were vital to us and our children," she said.

Campaigners spent months digging out information from council records and demanding to know where the books had gone - but to no avail.

They asked questions in community council meetings and put them to senior officers, libraries cabinet member Cllr Geraldine Reardon and leader Cllr Clyde Loakes.

A council spokesman said neither politicians nor officers could be expected to answer such detailed questions at public meetings without warning.

Another prominent library defender, Janet Wright, said: "We just get the run-around. They change their story every two minutes and they don't seem to have a clue what's going on."

Ms Molloy said campaigners welcomed the breakthrough.

"The St James's Street Library Campaign feels vindicated by the council's climb down, their admission that there has been a massive cull of books over the past two years, and its admission that the books culled have been sent to Edmonton incinerator and recycling plant."

* The St James Street Library Campaign is holding a demonstration on Saturday, December 8, outside the library at the top of Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow, at 2pm.