A man who caged 16 wild birds and kept a collection of dead ones in his freezer has been banned from keeping animals for five years.

A LONELY and mentally-ill man who kept a collection of dead wild birds in jars in his freezer has been banned from keeping animals for five years.

Christopher Searle, a schizophrenic depressive who lived alone, claimed in a letter to the court that the poorly-kept 16 wild birds, at least 14 other birds and one rabbit found at his home were ‘his friends’.

Searle pleaded guilty to seven offences relating to the animals, as well as several small-animal traps, found at his home in Braunton on October 11, 2011 by RSPCA inspectors and police officers.

The 63-year-old was sentenced at North Devon Magistrate’s Court today (Wed).

Prosecutor John Wyatt read a statement to the court from RSPCA Inspector Amanda Swift, who visited the scene which said the animals were kept in dirty and cramped conditions, without enough food or water.

Many of the birds were in poor conditions due to the foul-encrusted aviaries they were kept in, and the rabbit was suffering from a painful bacterial infection known as ‘bumblefoot’ and a skin condition.

Several dead animals were also discovered in enclosures with the live ones, and poisoned-grain that Searle claimed was used to kill rats was found dangerously close to the caged animals.

Searle, who also had an interest in taxidermy, also had a collection of 21 birds in jars in a freezer in his garage, and an assortment of traps used for catching wild animals.

Rod Ball, defending, told the court how Searle had a long history of mental illness, and had lived a solitary life since his parents had passed away 15 years ago.

Searle, originally from Staines, was former president of the Staines Bird Club, and more recently had been encouraged by his consultant to use his interest in birds as a therapy for his depression.

Mr Ball read a letter written by Searle, which said: “I never see anyone here at home, each year or the next.

“I am able to show love and consideration now to animals and people. The birds are my friends, not just animals.”

Dr Peter Sims, former director of public health from 1984-1994, spoke as a character witness for the defence.

He said: “I have known him since I moved to Braunton some 23 years ago, and I see him every two-to-three weeks perhaps.

“Chris is an untidy man; I would say he looked after the birds no worse than he looked after himself, but I don’t think there is any evidence of him deliberately offending. I am honoured to be his friend.”

Searle, who also owns two dogs which the RSPCA said they were not concerned about the welfare of, was given a five-year ban on keeping all animals except dogs.

He was given a conditional discharge of two years, and due to his financial situation was not ordered to pay the £4606.44 in costs that the prosecution requested.

Lead magistrate Paul Cooper said: “I only hope that if you ever do come into any money, or consider who you will leave your money too, that you remember the RSPCA, and that they are a charity.”

The traps found at his home, which were confiscated by the RSPCA, were ordered by magistrates to be forfeited and destroyed.