Ex-curator denies selling birds of prey

CHRISTINE CUNNINGHAM A former museum curator and taxidermist who is accused of selling stuffed endangered birds of prey to the an owner of a Norfolk stately home yesterday told a jury that he had never sold any of the birds - but had only charged for some of the work he did in providing new settings and putting them in custom-built glass cases.

CHRISTINE CUNNINGHAM

A former museum curator and taxidermist who is accused of selling stuffed endangered birds of prey to the an owner of a Norfolk stately home yesterday told a jury that he had never sold any of the birds - but had only charged for some of the work he did in providing new settings and putting them in custom-built glass cases.

Ornithologist John Metcalf, a former Leicester Museum employee, is said to have shared an enthusiasm for ornithology and taxidermy with Michael Barclay, 68 of Hanworth Hall, near Cromer.

Norwich Crown Court heard that police and RSPB inspectors searched Barclay's Grade II listed home in May 2004 and found numerous examples of stuffed animals and birds.

In July of the same year officers returned to the 600-hectare estate and seized a pair of peregrine falcons, two barn owls, a tawny owl, a sparrowhawk, a long-eared owl, a little owl and a short-eared owl, which experts suspected to have been illegally traded.

Metcalf of Billesdon, Leicestershire, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of selling the birds and Barclay has denied eight charges of purchasing the prohibited specimens including peregrine falcons, owls and other British birds of prey.

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All the species in question were protected under international laws introduced in 1973 and the jury has heard it was not illegal to simply be in possession of the birds, nor illegal for them to change hands as a gift or loan, but that both buying and selling them constituted an offence.

Metcalf told the jury that that most of the specimens were old ones which he had been left by three old friends who had been great supporters of the museum where he worked. He said that his interest of taxidermy meant that people also used to give him specimens, which were victims of road accidents. He said one of the barn owls featured in the case he had given to Barclay had been obtained in this way and the other had been from one of the collections which he had been left.

He said he did not have the space to keep all the specimens he had as his main business was as an art dealer.

He told the jury: "I gave them to Michael Barclay. They were passed to him for me to get rid of them out of my lab."

Metcalf said the Peregrine Falcon, which he gave to Barclay, had not been in a case so he had sent it back to be cleaned and put in a custom-made case.

"His house (Barclay's) is ideal for this sort of thing."

He said he had given all the birds to Barclay and never sold them to him and had not even always charged for all the work he had done as he considered Barclay a "friend".

"I considered we were friends and we shared a common interest."

Mark Harris for Barclay told the jury that he would not be giving evidence in the case.

The trial continues today.