A burglar has managed to avoid a jail sentence after he stole 18 stuffed animals, including a chimpanzee in a top hat.
Jason Hopwood, 47, admitted his role in the gang that stole the animals and antiques worth £100,000.
The gang of thieves also made off with lions, zebra and a sloth during the raid on a taxidermy warehouse in Wimbledon, south-west London, on March 1 last year.
Hopwood, from Romford, Essex, had a 21-month prison sentence suspended for two years at Kingston Crown Court on Monday and was handed 200 hours’ community service.
The Metropolitan Police found the getaway van packed with the stuffed animals after an anonymous tip-off was made to Crimestoppers.
Detectives identified Hopwood, of Drummond Road, as its owner and despite initially denying any involvement, he eventually admitted burglary and fraudulent use of a registration plate.
Detective Constable Stuart Goss said: “This was a complex and challenging case and I was helped by colleagues across the Metropolitan Police Service and Essex Police.
“I would also like to thank the media, as I am sure reporting of our appeal forced the criminals to abandon the stolen goods.
“This was not a random crime, this was a criminal enterprise and Hopwood was well equipped and well prepared.
“I am very proud to have been able to reunite the victim with these valuable animals and bring Hopwood before the courts.”
Speaking about the odd haul of stolen goods, DC Goss added: “Cataloguing and exhibiting the stolen items was a truly unique and memorable experience, and this is certainly an investigation which will stay with me for years to come.”
Top pic: PA