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PETER FROST reports on a policeman who stole rare wild birds  eggs on his night shifts on duty.   

A Suffolk policeman who raided the nests of rare wild birds while on duty has received a suspended prison sentence after being caught with 649 rare wild bird eggs in his loft.

Michael Upson (52) who is no longer a police officer, received a 14-week sentence, suspended for 12 months.

He must also pay £120 in legal costs and complete 150 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Upson committed the thefts between 1991 and 2001 when he was police constable and acting sergeant.

Magistrate Eamon Lambert told him the court had seriously considered sending him to prison.

Mark Thomas, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) investigations officer, said: “We are pleased with the sentence – it is fitting with the evidence heard.

“I don’t think he is an individual who will go back to egg collecting and thankfully egg collecting is becoming more and more unusual in the UK.”

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

RSPB inspectors and police searched his home in June this year and found eggs. The eggs were hidden in margarine cartons, kept in an old suitcase in the loft.

Using his police experience Upson had concocted an elaborate cover story. A fake index card system, suggested that all the eggs had been collected before 1954 – the year when taking eggs theft became illegal.

However police also uncovered plastic boxes containing more modern  diaries and another set of catalogue cards, hidden in a water tank.

These revealed the eggs had in fact been taken between 1991 and 2001.

Upson, of Sotherton, near Halesworth, Suffolk, admitted possessing 584 wild eggs – an offence under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Upson also pleaded guilty to a separate offence of possessing 65 eggs of Schedule One rare birds, such as marsh harrier, nightjar and cettis warbler.

During the trial the court heard that Upson’s notebooks detailed visits to the Western Isles to steal golden eagle eggs, to south Devon to take Cetti’s warbler eggs, to North Wales to steal chough eggs, and to the New Forest to take hawfinch eggs.

The police officer had a particular fondness for woodlarks. He stole dozens of their eggs at the time there were fewer than a thousand breeding pairs in the Britain.

The woodlark eggs were all taken from Dunwich and Westleton Heath in Suffolk and his actions would have had a significant environmental impact on the bird population in the area.

Prosecutor Judith Piggin told the court that police had found egg boxes hidden in Upson’s airing cupboard as well as the eggs, secret diaries and catalogue cards in the attic.

Upson admitted that the eggs were his and that he was a serving police officer at the time he raided the nests.

Upson, who worked as a training officer at Suffolk Police headquarters in Martlesham before retiring in August, denied that he had taken any eggs while on duty.

This claim was challenged by the RSPB who said that one of Upson’s diary entries indicated that he had taken kittiwake eggs from Lowestoft pier while he was on a police night shift.

Mark Thomas, speaking for the RSPB, said: ‘That a police officer should knowingly break the law in pursuit of this obsession is shocking, and we welcome his conviction.

This article was first published in the Morning Star, 2012

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