Musician sentenced for rare bird skins theft

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Edwin Rist
Image caption,
Edwin Rist spent the night at Tring railway station with the skins after missing the last train home

A musician who stole 299 rare bird skins from the Natural History Museum in Hertfordshire has been given a 12-month suspended prison sentence.

The brightly-coloured skins were taken from a collections area of the Tring museum on 24 June 2009 in a break-in.

US citizen Edwin Rist, 22, who admitted burglary and money-laundering at a previous hearing, was described as a James Bond fantasist by his solicitor.

St Albans Crown Court heard he acted on his "obsessive interest in birds".

The court was told that Rist suffers from Asperger's syndrome. His prison sentence was suspended for two years.

Some of the skins were sold on eBay and he made an estimated $17,000 US dollars (£10,400). The court heard Rist used the money to buy a new flute.

Hertfordshire Police said most of the birds had been recovered.

Rist, a student at the Royal Academy of Music, was described as a very talented flautist by defence solicitor Andrew Harman.

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

Image caption,
The museum said that specific birds had been targeted in the break-in

Following the raid he spent the night at Tring railway station with the birds after missing the last train home.

Rist had admitted burglary and money-laundering at a hearing at Hemel Hempstead Magistrates' Court in November.

The museum's director of science, Professor Richard Lane, said at the time of the break-in that the birds formed part of a collection assembled over 350 years.

He said the items were of scientific interest and many were irreplaceable and "literally priceless".

There are about 750,000 bird skins, representing 95% of known living species, held at the museum.

Professor Lane said the ornithological collections were used by researchers throughout the world, who either visit Tring or request loans.

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