Willesden student plundered museum of rare bird skins

American receives suspended sentence after flogging pelts on Ebay

A STUDENT who broke into a museum and stole rare bird skins that he sold online has escaped a jail term.

Edwin Rist, of High Road, Willesden, admitted plundering the Natural History Museum in Hertfordshire of 299 pelts in June 2009.

He broke into the building to steal the skins which been housed in a private collections’ area at the back of musuem.

Hemel Hempstead Magistrates Court heard the 22-year-old, who was studying at the Royal College of Music, used the money from his sales to buy a new flute and improve his lifestyle.

He was caught after a prospective buyer alerted detectives who had been appealing for information.

The rarity of Rist’s stolen loot attracted buyers worldwide with unknowing collectors from Norway, Denmark, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia coming forward with their purchases.

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Detectives have recovered 191 intact birds but only 101 still retain their labels, which are critical scientifically.

In addition, parts (feathers, etc.) from an estimated 31 further birds have also been recovered.

Last week, he was sentenced to 12 month in jail suspended for two years and handed down a 12 months supervision order after being convicted of burglary and money laundering offences.

Detective Inspector Fraser Wylie, investigating officer, said: “This is a very positive result against a man who, through his obsession with fly-tying and greed for money, essentially tried to rob the world of some of its natural heritage.

“It has been an intriguing case and we are thrilled to be able to have not only solved it, but also to have returned many of the bird skins to the museum for future generations to enjoy and use in scientific research.”

Making an appeal to trace the remaining pelts, Professor Richard Lane, Director of Science at the Natural History Museum, said: “The stolen birds were a number of brightly-coloured tropical birds, including Cotingas, Quetzals and Birds of Paradise.

“Unfortunately, a significant number of the returned specimens have been irrevocably damaged or their labels destroyed which will make them almost impossible to study in the future so we would be extremely grateful for any information on the remaining missing specimens.”

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of any outstanding birds is asked to contact either the police on non-emergency number 0845 33 00 222 or the Natural History Museum on 020 7942 5065.