Former policeman Michael Upson spared immediate jail term for illegally possessing 650 wild bird eggs

A former policeman who admitted illegally possessing 650 wild bird eggs, including some from the UK's rarest species, has been spared jail today.

Michael Upson amassed his collection over a 10-year period when he was also working for Suffolk Constabulary.

He denies any of the eggs, which included some from the woodlark, Cetti's warbler and marsh harrier, were taken while he was on duty.

The 52-year-old was given a suspended prison sentence today at Norwich Magistrates' Court after previously pleading guilty to two offences.

Upson received a 14-week suspended jail term for the charge of possessing 65 schedule one eggs, the most protected in the UK, and a 12-week sentence for the remaining 585 eggs.

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Eamon Lambert, chairman of the bench, said: 'Your actions had a marked effect on the bird population and a serious impact on the environment.

'The sheer number of the eggs - 585 from charge one and 65 from charge two- is a serious number and a crime against nature and our sentence will reflect this.'

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Upson must also complete 150 hours unpaid work and was ordered to pay �120 toward court costs.

Magistrates ruled the equipment Upson used must be forfeited for destruction, although there will be a period of negotiation as to whether any photographs or maps will be returned to him.

The court was told today there were 3,000 images but some were unrelated to the offences.

A Suffolk Police spokesman confirmed today that Upson had been employed by the force, most recently as a training officer.

Detective Inspector Jeff Yaxley said: 'Public confidence in the police depends on those serving with us demonstrating the highest standards of personal and professional behaviour.

'Whilst it is always disappointing when an officer falls below those standards, the constabulary will continue to robustly investigate any allegations of criminal conduct by its employees.'

City magistrates heard yesterday Upson had developed a sophisticated indexing system, detailing how and when he found each egg, which was discovered by police – along with egg-blowing drills – when they searched his home in Sotherton, near Halesworth, in June.

The court was told the action's of the father of two, who was an amateur ornithologist, would have had a 'significant impact on the species' and the environment in the Dunwich area, where he found many of the eggs.

Officers found the eggs hidden in suitcases which had been 'secreted' in towels in an airing cupboard, when they executed a warrant on June 21, the court heard.

Upson, who has since retired from the Suffolk force, made full admissions to police but said the collection had been made between 1991 and 2001, and he had not looked at them for many years.

A total of 650 wild bird eggs were found stored in margarine tubs.

A log book detailing the circumstances of each egg find was found stored in a water tank by police.

Roger Thomson, mitigating, said the collecting had been the result of 'a mad period' in the 1990s for Upson, during which he had been having marital troubles and suffering from depression, but that he knew his actions were wrong.

He denied that his client, a 'keen naturalist and ornithologist', had ever taken eggs while on police duty.

Mr Thomson said: 'The collection has been gathering dust in the attic. It's been up there and he has not shown it to anyone else.

'He wishes now that he had just thrown it away but he found it difficult. He knew it was wrong to have them in the first place and thought it would be more wrong to have thrown them away.'

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