Man pleads guilty to bird skin theft

13 November 2010, 07:38 | Updated: 26 November 2010, 12:48

A talented musician from the United States has admitted stealing 299 rare bird skins from the Natural History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire.

Edwin Rist, 22, pleaded guilty at Hemel Hempstead magistrates' court to the theft of the brightly-coloured skins, which were taken from a collections' area on June 24 last year (2009) after a break in at the museum.

Mr Rist, who is a student at The Royal Academy of Music, was described as a very talented flautist and a James Bond fantasist by defence solicitor Andrew Harman.

Some of the money from the sale of these feathers was going to be used to buy himself a new flute. He had a fantasy about fly tying with exotic feathers and wanted to write a book about the art.  said Mr Harman.

The court heard how Mr Rist, of High Street, Willesden Green, London, visited the museum prior to the burglary, telling staff he was a photographic student taking pictures on behalf of an ornithologist from Oxford University.

They allowed him to photograph the birds, which were not on display but were in a separate locked room at the museum.

When arrested, police found the photographs, along with pictures of the building, alleyways and the layout of the museum, said prosecutor Jan Brooks.

She said some fly tie art forms, which are extremely collectible, could fetch up to a million pounds.

The court heard he caught a train to Tring station, where he walked to the museum, used a brick to smash the window, stole the skins, then carried them back to the train station. He missed the last train and had to stay there the whole night and caught the first train back home the next morning.

Rist was released on bail to appear at St Albans Crown Court on 14 January 2011 for sentence, while probation and psychiatric reports are prepared.