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A “callous and cruel” ex-zoo keeper who stole £25,000 worth of rare birds has been jailed.
Bradley Tomes, 25, was caught after he sold two tiny Humboldt penguins - Pablo and Penny - on Facebook to an animal collector who became suspicious.
He also stole 12 spoonbills - which were the only group of the rare flamingos in the UK - and left eight of them to die in his care, a court heard.
Preston Crown Court was told Tomes broke into South Lakes Safari in Cumbria, and carried out two “carefully coordinated” burglaries.
The former bird-keeper, who worked at the site for four years until 2016, was caught red handed when he tried to transport the penguins to the collector’s home. He was arrested during the exchange on January 16, 2019 but denied the birds were stolen and told police he was an animal trader.
The court heard he fabricated a “ridiculous” story claiming he had bought the penguins for £1,500 from a man in Scotland.
But the rare birds were microchipped and were traced back to the zoo.
Tomes admitted stealing 12 spoonbill birds on 22 July 2018, and then two Humboldt penguins and three macaws on 27 October the same year. He also admitted transporting and selling the animals.
Jailing im for two years and eight months, Judge Beverley Lunt told Tomes his actions demonstrated how “callous and selfish” he was.
“You carried out a carefully coordinated burglary,” she said. “As a result of the damage caused by leaving a gaping hole, other birds also escaped which have never been seen again.
“Three other spoonbills also escaped but thankfully were recovered. The others weren’t and their fate is unknown.
“During your time at the zoo you had dealt with the aviary. You knew this group of spoonbills was the only one in the UK.
“You knew they were a family group from a breeding programme. You destroyed that group.
“You didn't care, you saw them as a commodity you could sell. You let eight die, so you caused even more suffering.
“This was a callous and cruel crime. The only excuse you can make is that at the time you needed money for alcohol and drugs.
“You caused animals unnecessary suffering for your greed. This crime demonstrates how callous and selfish you were.”
Prosecutor Andrew Brown said Tomes cut a hole in the side of an aviary late at night on July 22, 2018 to steal the spoonbills. None of the 12 rare tropical birds - valued at more than £20,000 in total - have been recovered.
The court heard eight died and the remaining four were sold.
Despite suspicions, investigators were unable to find sufficient evidence to arrest Tomes after his first crime, but in October that year, he again broke into the zoo.
Police visited his home but were unable to find aviaries which would link him to the burglary. It was later discovered that he kept them at his uncle’s property.
Mitigating, Simon Christie told the court Tomes had turned to alcohol and drugs following the death of his grandmother and the breakdown of his relationship.
Christie said: “Bradley Tomes was a young boy devoted to the care of animals.
“When he was interviewed for the job at the zoo he had no qualifications but he impressed so much they took him on. He was known for his ability to care for birds. He was a very popular and devoted animal lover.”
He added: “In 2018 there were a variety of significant problems which changed Bradley’s attitude and behaviour.
“He lost his grandmother, his relationship broke down and he turned to alcohol and drugs.”
Tomes had previously been convicted of animal neglect and in July 2019 he was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison suspended for a year.
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