A Coventry man with a lifelong interest in taxidermy has been given a suspended prison sentence for illegally importing the skulls of endangered species.
Alan Dudley was given a 50-week suspended jail term by a judge at Coventry Crown Court, after admitting six charges relating to buying and offering for sale the skulls of prohibited species including a penguin, a marmoset, a turtle and a monkey. A seventh related charge was struck from the record.
Judge Peter Ross also ordered Dudley, 52, to be electronically tagged, and imposed a curfew of 7pm-5.30am, as well as a £1,000 fine and prosecution costs of £1,500.
The court heard that Dudley did not act for commercial gain but had "a deep and serious interest in natural history".
When his Coventry home was searched in Mach 2008, police found a room dedicated to his collection of animal skulls, on show in display cases which lined the walls.
The vast majority of the hoard was lawfully held, but an investigation found that some of the skulls had been bought without the necessary licence to trade in endangered species.
Timothy Green, defending, said his client had an arrangement with a number of local zoos and academic institutions to "clean up" the carcasses of dead animals and hand back the skeletons, adding: "For some it might even be the stuff of nightmares, a room full of skulls, but for him it has been a very sincere and earnestly pursued interest."
The judge, who described Dudley as an "amateur academic", said: "It is clear that your academic and technical expertise are both highly regarded, they are highly valued. But yours is a case where academic zeal has crossed the line into unlawful obsession."
The court heard that on one occasion Dudley paid 80 US dollars (about £50) for a monkey skull, which he purchased after receiving a picture of three monkey skulls for sale. The one which was bought by Dudley was described as "near perfect condition" but the other two skulls in the photograph had bullet holes.
The judge said he considered that transaction to be the most serious of the counts admitted by Dudley, adding: "You must have known you would never, and I mean never, have received any licence to import that skull. It must have been absolutely, abundantly, crystal clear to you that the provenance of that trio of skulls was extremely dubious to say the least."
"No person involved in lawful activity would, in my view, purchase skulls from a protected species which showed that they had been shot through the skull. And two of the trio showed exactly that."
Dudley, of Halford Lane, Keresley, Coventry, was convicted after a complex investigation led by West Midlands Police, in partnership with the National Wildlife Crime Unit and UK Border Agency.