A MAN who kept a 4ft crocodile and 23 snakes in 'appalling conditions' in the bedroom of a rented house has been jailed for 26 weeks.

Lee Thompson, 36, was arrested in Wallingford on September 11 and has been convicted of two counts of breaching a ban on keeping a dangerous wild animal, two counts of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal and two counts of keeping a dangerous wild animal without a licence.

Thompson, of King Edward Road, Laindon, Essex, is known as 'Snake' and has the word 'snake' tattooed on his neck.

He failed to attend his trial at Basildon Magistrates' Court and was convicted in his absence.

Essex Police said Thompson had been on their radar since 2015 when they found 45 exotic animals, including spiders, a lizard and a snapping turtle, at a unit he rented in Basildon.

Some of the animals, which had been left without water, food and heat, died, and the survivors were taken into the care of the RSPCA and specially trained handlers.

Efforts to find Thompson, who was not at the unit at the time, were unsuccessful and he remained on the run until January 2018.

He was arrested at an address in Napier Close, Basildon and on the same day officers found a menagerie of exotic animals at a house he rented in Burdett Avenue in Westcliff.

The 4ft caiman, 23 snakes and fat-tailed scorpion had no food, water or heat source and the snakes were in poorly-ventilated plastic boxes.

Essex Police said the reptiles included cobras, copperheads, pythons and a Madagascar giant hognose.

Seven of the snakes died and had been left to decompose, with the survivors taken into the care of the RSPCA.

During police interview Thompson claimed the animals were his pets and he had no intention of selling them but he admitted neglecting them.

An Essex Police spokesman said: "Thompson kept wild animals in appalling conditions, ultimately causing 17 to die.

"Not only did he keep them without a licence but showed no care for their well-being or their survival."