'Brazen' taxidermist who traded rhino horns and tiger skulls jailed for second time

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·3 mins read
Halstead, left, was jailed for flouting trading rules. (PA Images/Lancashire Police)
Halstead, left, was jailed for flouting trading rules. (PA Images/Lancashire Police)

A “brazen” taxidermist has been sentenced to 56 weeks in prison for repeatedly flouting laws about trading in endangered species.

Aaron Halestead, 29, was accused of using his legitimate business as a “vehicle for his illicit trading”, prosecutors said.

He was first investigated and cautioned for breaching regulations when he was a student who ran a taxidermy business to fund his studies.

Handout photo issued by Lancashire Police of rhino horns as taxidermist Aaron Halstead was jailed for 56 weeks.
Handout photo issued by Lancashire Police of rhino horns as taxidermist Aaron Halstead was jailed for 56 weeks.

Despite receiving advice about what was allowed from an officer who had experience of wildlife crime, he was jailed for 24 weeks in 2015 after admitting purchasing sperm whale teeth, a cheetah skull and a dolphin skull, and offered to sell a snowy owl without a permit.

Halstead was jailed on Monday for nine similar breaches of control of trade in endangered species regulations between September 2017 and January 2018.

Tiger skulls were acquired for a commercial purpose, the court heard. (Getty)
Tiger skulls were acquired for a commercial purpose, the court heard. (Getty)
A sawfish rostrum was among the items linked to Halstead. (PA/Lancashire Police)
A sawfish rostrum was among the items linked to Halstead. (PA/Lancashire Police)

He admitted a string of offences including selling and transporting black rhino horns, acquiring tiger skulls for a commercial purpose, offering a sperm whale tooth and black rhino skull for sale and keeping elephant tusks for sale.

Prosecutor Adrian Farrow told Preston Crown Court that Halstead’s actions were “driven by the considerable financial gains which can be made in such trade”.

Farrow said Halstead told a supplier via WhatsApp that he did not need to be “afraid of Customs” in shipping 10 tiger skulls valued at 9,000 euros out of the Netherlands.

“It will be fine … I’ve never had anything stopped,” Halstead said.

“Only from out of the EU.”

Aaron Halstead has been jailed for 56 weeks. (PA/Lancashire Police)
Aaron Halstead has been jailed for 56 weeks. (PA/Lancashire Police)
Undated handout photo issued by Lancashire Police of an elephant tusk. (via PA)
Undated handout photo issued by Lancashire Police of an elephant tusk. (via PA)

Another WhatsApp conversation showed Halstead had set up a trip to Calais in France to sell black rhino horns for 70,000 euros to a “Chinese rich” client. He had removed the horns from a head he legally bought in an auction, the court heard.

“I will put some other taxidermy in the car and make a false invoice… so it looks like I am delivering them to France,” he had said.

Mark Stuart, defending, said Halstead, a qualified swimming instructor who helped disabled children, “should have stopped trading but he did not”, which was “a ridiculous stupid decision to make which he now bitterly regrets”.

The court heard that Halstead’s wife Heather was “utterly astounded” when she discovered he was trading illegally again and told him to shut the taxidermy business, which was dissolved in January 2019.

Andy McWilliam, investigations officer for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, with elephant horns. (PA/Lancashire Police)
Andy McWilliam, investigations officer for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, with elephant horns. (PA/Lancashire Police)
A sperm whale tooth, catalogued by Lancashire Police. (via PA)
A sperm whale tooth, catalogued by Lancashire Police. (via PA)

Sentencing, Judge Robert Altham said: “This was brazen, persistent, well-organised criminality.

“This is no hapless amateur who has offended by stumbling into an area of legislation he was not aware of.

“Here was a person who acted deliberately in a flagrant and knowing breach of the law, understanding the risks he took and the harm he could cause but was prepared to take those risks for considerable financial rewards.”