After suspicions were raised, police last year raided Phillip Cullen’s home and discovered hundreds of dead butterflies encased in glass.
LONDON — The killer, a former body builder, stalked his frail victims at nature reserves, in one case clambering over a locked gate armed with a net, before he chased them down, trapped them and carried them away, dead or alive.
In what prosecutors are calling Britain’s first conviction of its kind, Phillip Cullen, 57, was found guilty this week of capturing, killing and possessing specimens of the Large Blue butterfly, the country’s rarest butterfly, admired for its beauty and expressionist blue wings. Cullen, who had denied the charges, could face a maximum of six months in prison when he is sentenced next month.
“It is an offense to capture, kill or possess that butterfly because it is a protected species in the U.K. It is a unique case,” prosecutor Kevin Withey told a magistrates court in Bristol, in southwest England. “There has never been a prosecution in terms of capturing and killing.”
The Large Blue (Maculinea arion), first documented in Britain in the 1790s, was declared extinct there in 1979, but can now be found in 33 sites in southwest England, thanks to David Simcox, an ecologist who drove his van to Sweden in 1983, collected some eggs and reintroduced the insects.
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During the trial, the court heard how Cullen was seen in June 2015 running after the butterflies with a small net at a nature reserve in Gloucestershire while a friend stood watch nearby. He was also observed acting suspiciously at another Large Blue butterfly hot spot in Somerset.
Unluckily for Cullen, a butterfly expert at the Gloucestershire nature reserve witnessed the treachery. When he confronted Cullen and asked him what he was doing, prosecutors said Cullen replied that he was looking for parasitic wasps — not butterflies. But…