Bird Skin Thief Ordered To Pay

31 July 2011, 10:19 | Updated: 31 July 2011, 10:26

A student who stole 299 rare bird skins from the Natural History Museum's been told to repay £125,000.

American student Edwin Rist, 22, (right) was given a 12 month prison sentence in April 2011 for the burglary at a building in Tring, Hertfordshire in June 2009.  He was also given a 12 month supervision order.

He's now been ordered to pay £125,150 under the Proceeds of Crime Act following a hearing at St Albans Crown Court on Friday 29 July 2011.  That's the amount it's thought he made by selling the bird skins on places like eBay.

Detective Sergeant Joe Quinlivan, from Herts Constabulary’s Economic Crime Unit, said: "This is a very positive result for us and sends a strong message that making money through crime never pays.

"My team and I were determined that Rist should not benefit financially from his crime, which robbed this country of part of its heritage, and today’s result is testament to the hard work of the Economic Crime Unit.

"For anyone who is involved in or considering making money through crime – be warned. If caught, we will be seeking your ill-gotten gains through the courts from you through the Proceeds of Crime Act.”

Police say Rist has just over £13,000 available to pay and he has six months to pay it. If he does not pay this amount within six months, he will be required to serve his 12 month prison sentence.

If he should come into more money at a later date, the police Economic Crime Unit say they'll seek this money from him up to the total outstanding figure.

The student, who was studying music in London, planned to steal the bird skins in 2008, having visited the museum under false pretences. He arranged a visit to the Museum in order to photograph a sample of bird skins in the collection on behalf of a colleague, before returning to break in to the premises on the 24 June 2009.

Rist took 299 skins for use in ornamental fly-tying, the money from which he was hoping to put towards his studies, buy a new flute and improve his lifestyle. He separated many of the bird skins, or feathers from them, and sold them on to other fly-tiers. However, police were alerted to him by a fly-tier who has seen the media appeals and became suspicious when he was offered the skins for sale.

He was arrested on 12 November last year at his student accommodation in North London, where he had returned to study after the summer break.

Following the arrest and charge, a number of people from across the world have come forward with specimens they had unwittingly purchased from Rist and now wanted to return. Countries included Norway, Denmark, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

So far, a total of 191 intact birds have been recovered, but only 101 still retain their labels, which are critical scientifically. In addition, parts like feathers from an estimated 31 further birds have also been recovered.

The birds that were stolen form part of the nation’s natural history collection, assembled over the last 350 years. The seventy million specimens looked after by the Natural History Museum are a resource of international importance in the development of scientific knowledge. The ornithological collections are amongst the most heavily used and are consulted by researchers throughout the world, who either visit the Natural History Museum at Tring or request loans.

Police are asking anyone with information on the whereabouts of any outstanding birds to contact either Hertfordshire Constabulary on non-emergency number 0845 33 00 222 or the Natural History Museum on 020 7942 5065.