Ex-soldier jailed for theft of rare falcon eggs

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The Independent Online

A former member of the Rhodesian SAS who collected rare peregrine falcon eggs from a mountain in Wales to smuggle them out of the country and sell on the black market in Dubai was jailed for two-and-a-half years yesterday.

Jeffrey Lendrum, 48, wrapped the 14 eggs in socks and strapped them to his chest to keep them warm. But he was caught before he could board his flight, when a cleaner at Birmingham International Airport became suspicious.

He becomes the first person in 19 years to be prosecuted in the UK for attempting to smuggle peregrine falcon eggs out of the country.

The court heard that Lendrum, who admitted the charges of theft and trying to export the eggs, had two previous convictions for similar offences in Canada and Zimbabwe.

Warwick Crown Court was told he had travelled the world to steal and sell rare eggs, adopting risky techniques. In one instance he abseiled off a cliff to reach a nest, while on another occasion he lowered himself from a helicopter.

The 14 eggs he tried to smuggle out of Britain in May would have been worth about £70,000 in Dubai, where falconry is a national sport. But he was caught after John Struczynski, a cleaner in the airport's business-class lounge, spotted him repeatedly entering a shower cubicle without using the facilities.

Mr Struczynski called the police, who found the eggs strapped to Lendrum's body. Initially he claimed they were bought from Waitrose and he had strapped them to his body because he thought it would cure his bad back.

But when officers searched one of his properties in Northamptonshire they discovered egg-hunting equipment including incubators, a GPS system and a golf-ball retriever. Passing sentence yesterday, Judge Christopher Hodson told Lendrum: "There can be no explanation for your criminal actions other than commercial profit.

"These were eggs which you had removed from nests in Wales and thereby would have reduced the numbers of this ... endangered species in the wild. These are birds which enhance the attraction of the countryside to all."

Quoting from a previous judgment, Mr Hodson added: "Environmental crime, if established, strikes not only at a locality and its population but in some measure [at] the planet and its future. Nobody should be allowed to doubt its seriousness or to forget that one side of the environmental story is always untold."

Lendrum, a recent divorcee who ran a shop in Towcester selling African art, spoke only to plead guilty to the two charges. Nicola Purches, defending, told the court that Lendrum had been a "model prisoner" while on remand and asked if her client could be released in time to see his terminally ill father.

Outside court, Lendrum's brother-in-law Calvin Maughan said: "After his divorce he was hoping to return to Africa where he works on a safari park. He didn't realise the severity of the case."

Andy McWilliam, a retired police officer who worked on the investigation for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said he is hoping to meet Lendrum while he is in prison to learn more about the tactics used by egg smugglers.

Mr McWilliam said: "Jeffrey Lendrum is clearly a very resourceful character and used to travel the globe, his sole goal to seek birds of prey for financial gain. It's imperative that people like this who make huge gains out of the world's wildlife are imprisoned. The planning that has gone into this operation is reflected by the sentence today."

Guy Shorrock from the bird charity RSPB added: "You have got to remember he was caught by a cleaner, that's the reality of it, just because of his carelessness. He has probably been involved in these offences for years. It's clearly very lucrative."

Twelve of the 14 eggs later hatched and 11 survived. They were given to a farmer and have since been released back into the wild in Scotland.