Retired vet hatched a plot to smuggle rare cockatoos in bras and underpants

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The Independent Online
PETER VICTOR and NICHOLAS SCHOON

A retired vet who hatched a plot to smuggle rare birds' eggs into Britain in couriers' bras and underpants was jailed for eight months yesterday.

Alan Griffiths, 68, a renowned expert on exotic birds, masterminded the plot to smuggle in and hatch Australian cockatoos which he then sold for thousands of pounds.

Swansea Crown Court was told that in one case alone, Griffiths, of Llandysul, Powys, reaped pounds 40,000 for two breeding pairs of the rare birds that he hatched, raised and then sold to a Swiss collector.

The smuggling racket centred on several Australian species, including three types of black cockatoo. It has been illegal since 1960 to export these birds from Australia. But their rarity in Britain has only served to force up their black market value.

The racket was uncovered when Australian Customs arrested a bricklayer, Christopher Owen, one of the gang's couriers, at Perth as he was about to board a flight to London. Investigators found secret pockets sewn into Owen's vest and underpants containing 29 native eggs - eight black cockatoos and 21 Galah birds - worth more than pounds 100,000 on the black market.

Customs men then raided the home of his Perth connection, Bill Grumble, where they found a similarly adapted bra for female couriers. They found a note, thought to have been written by Mr Grumble, advising that the eggs should "slowly dribble" into Britain to avoid suspicion. They also found aviaries full of birds and incubators holding another 31 eggs. Owen was later jailed for six months in Australia.

The rest of the gang was rounded up. Christopher Owen's father, Terence, 51, a taxi driver, of Llanybydder, Dyfed, was subsequently jailed for two months. The court heard he recruited his son and two daughters into the gang.

Owen's daughter, Denise, 29, a computer programmer, and her sister Nicola Roderick, 27, a housewife, both of Llanybydder, were ordered to do 200 hours' community service.

David Farmer, 41, of Haverfordwest, Dyfed, who hatched and raised the chicks in his aviaries, was jailed for six weeks.

When the customs men raided Griffiths' home they found and removed eight red-tailed black cockatoos, seven white-tailed black cockatoos and one yellow-tailed black cockatoo. They also found a fax from his Swiss customer. At a hearing last November Griffiths admitted conspiring with others to evade restrictions on the importation of protected birds.

Mr Huw Davies, for the prosecution, said Customs investigators had evidence that a total of 69 eggs, mostly cockatoos, were illegally imported, although some failed to hatch. It was estimated the gang made around pounds 54,000.

Sentencing Griffiths and ordering the confiscation of pounds 29,500 assets from smuggling, Judge Tom Lewis-Bowen said he had seduced couriers into the gang, knowing full well they faced jail sentences if caught.

"These offences were committed for greed," he said.

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