Top landowner jailed for bird offences

Eton-educated former army major Michael Barclay last night swapped the luxury of his sprawling Norfolk stately pile for the stark surroundings of a prison cell.

Eton-educated former army major Michael Barclay last night swapped the luxury of his sprawling Norfolk stately pile for the stark surroundings of a prison cell.

The wealthy aristocrat, who has enjoyed the grandeur and privilege of Hanworth Hall for most of his life, will have to get used to his sparse new home after being jailed for four months for a string of wildlife offences.

Barclay, 68, was found guilty by a jury of eight counts of illegally purchasing prohibited specimens of endangered birds of prey after a week-long trial at Norwich Crown Court.

Last night Alan Roberts of the national crime wildlife unit, said his conviction and imprisonment sent out a strong message that whatever your position in society, no one is immune to the law.

The jury heard Barclay bought the birds from former museum worker John Metcalf, 66, who was yesterday given a two-month suspended prison sentence for eight counts relating to the sale of the prohibited species.

The pair shared a passion for taxidermy and had illegally traded 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.

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It emerged after the verdict that the charges were the tip of the iceberg in the case, sparked when RSPB inspectors and police searched the large mansion, set in 1,400 acres near Cromer, in May 2004.

While scouring the Grade II-listed house and selecting the birds as evidence from a vast collection, they also uncovered a secret room in which "wildlife enthusiast" Barclay stashed row upon row of birds eggs, some of which he had smuggled into the country.

Barclay, who was also ordered to pay £30,000 in costs, had pleaded guilty in a previous hearing to two counts of smuggling "critically endangered" wild bird eggs from Russia and Norway - charges which Judge Simon Barham deemed the most serious when sentencing yesterday.

Barclay also admitted yesterday four charges of possessing stuffed wild birds and eggs, with some of the birds from a protected site on the Scottish island of North Rona.

Metcalf, an ornithologist and taxidermist from Billesdon in Leicestershire, who used to work for Leicester Museum, also pleaded guilty yesterday to two charges of taking a wild bird and one of disturbing a wild bird at North Rona.

During the trial, prosecutor Andrew Bird said neither man had the necessary licence to trade in endangered birds and committed offences under the control of endangered species enforcement regulations 1997.

He described Barclay as a man of "substantial wealth" and a collector of stuffed animals and birds who shared a "symbiotic relationship" with Metcalf that fed their enthusiasm.

Barclay did not give evidence in the trial, but Metcalf claimed he had given the birds to his friend legally as a gift.

Sentencing Barclay, Judge Barham said: "I appreciate you are a wildlife enthusiast but the purpose of this legislation is to protect endangered species and it's important this is dealt with severely."

Metcalf was ordered to pay £8,300 from his savings towards costs.

Judge Barham told Metcalf he was not active in the more serious offences and would suffer a loss of reputation and his ability to work in an area of "great expertise", which would cause financial loss.

Speaking after the case, Mr Roberts, a wildlife officer with Norfolk police before taking on his new role, said Barclay's horde was one of the most extensive he had seen in 10 years of similar investigations.

"He had a massive collection of eggs and taxidermy and so far as the numbers are concerned its one of the largest I've ever seen," he said.

"Although there were a lot of items around the house on display, he had clearly tried to hide those eggs away from our prying eyes.

"A hundred years ago, a lot of people in his position did this sort of thing all the time - Victorians were great collectors and museums are full of things that people in that position collected, but legislation has been made because of the effect they were having throughout the world.

"We are pleased with the sentence, which is just right for the significance of the offences and the impact it will have on wildlife, and hopefully it will gives out the message that whatever your position, and however you might abuse that, you are not immune to the wildlife legislation enforced in this country.

"These specimens are protected for a reason - because they are endangered."

Ironically, a 24-year-old Barclay spoke of his desire to increase the trade of birds when appointed as an export manager for a Norfolk poultry firm in 1963.

He married Katherine Dowsett, the daughter of ship-building millionaire, when he was 22, and travelled extensively after leaving Sandhurst, where he had followed in the footsteps of his Army Major father.

It is understood the seized birds - which have been perched in their cases in the court room throughout the trial - will eventually find a good home in a museum.