Bird owner defiant after losing court custody fight

" Bird owner defiant after losing court custody fight ". A report in the Northern Echo, a British regional daily newspaper, on Tuesday, 29th April 2003

A bizarre custody battle involving 144 of the world’s rarest parrots has ended with the birds being seized by the courts.

Harry Sissen, 64, one of the world’s leading authorities on endangered species, was hoping to win back the birds which had been seized when he was convicted of smuggling three years ago.

Yesterday, a judge decided all of them should be re-homed. And in a double blow, Mr Sissen was ordered to pay £80,000 court costs - bringing his total legal bill to £250,000.

Mr Sissen was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2000 after a jury convicted him. His conviction came after Customs and Excise officers raided his premises at Cornhill Farm Estate, East Cowton, North Yorkshire, and seized 144 birds.

After serving his sentence, a confiscation hearing was held at Richmond Magistrates’ Court which decided that Mr Sissen could keep 100 of the birds but had to give up the remaining 44.Customs officials immediately launched a legal bid to stop the birds being handed over.

Judge Guy Whitburn, at Newcastle Crown Court, said magistrates were wrong in deciding to confiscate just some of the birds. Because Mr Sissen could not prove that the birds were legal due to a lack of paperwork, all of them were confiscated and will be re-homed.

The stunned bird expert lashed out after the judge delivered his decision. Mr Sissen told the judge: "All of the times I have been in front of you, you have shown yourself to be extremely biased towards Yorkshire farmers and you have strong opinions of me.

"There is no justice, this is supposed to be a court of justice. There has been no justice for me, my family, or my birds.

"I should have stolen and killed them, I would have been let off scot-free. I have done no harm whatsoever, my conscience is perfectly clear."

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Sissen said he will never give up his fight to win back his birds and has already lodged an appeal.

He vowed: "The only way they can stop me is to kill me."

Mr Sissen was targeted by Customs and Excise officers as part of an international crackdown on the illegal importation of endangered species.

The court heard how the birds were worth more to a smuggler than heroin

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 " Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret "

( If you drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back)

Horace (65-8 BC)