Custody battle over rare parrots

" Custody battle over rare parrots". A report published in the Northern Echo, a British regional newspaper, on 7th June 2002.

A battle for custody of more than 140 parrots - some of them among the rarest in the world - was waged in court yesterday.

Harry Sissen has already been convicted of smuggling Lear’s macaw and a blue-headed macaw into Britain following a well-publicised case at Newcastle Crown Court, in April 2000. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison - later reduced to 18 months on appeal - and, after serving his time, was subsequently ordered to pay the Crown £150,000 he was judged to have made from trading illegally in rare birds.

However, Mr Sissen has always maintained his innocence, and this week went to court in an attempt to win back the 140 birds confiscated from his farm near East Cowton, North Yorkshire, in raids by Customs and Excise officers, in 1998.

On the second day of the hearing yesterday, Mr Sissen told District Judge Ronnie Anderson that, despite previous convictions for smuggling in 1977 and 1981, none of his birds were obtained illegally.

He insisted his appearances in court were not because he had tried to evade regulations governing the import of rare species, but because he had failed to understand rules introduced in 1975.

He also accused both customs officers and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds of failing to understand the motivation for his work, which he claimed was inspired by a wish to conserve rare species rather than profit from them.

"The best way to ensure these birds are not taken from the wild and endangered further is to breed them in captivity so dealers are not tempted to buy them from illegal sources," he said. "That is exactly what I have been doing, but I just don’t seem to be able to get that into anyone’s head."

He claimed the three rare Lear’s macaw found on his premises were birds he had obtained from legal sources within the European Union, while he had been given half-a-dozen blue-headed macaw by a mysterious man with a German accent who had knocked on his door at home. Simon Draycott QC, acting for Customs and Excise, told yesterday’s hearing at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court that Mr Sissen was lying.

He pointed out that two years ago a judge and jury had concluded Mr Sissen had bought the rare birds from a contact in Yugoslavia and then smuggled them into the UK, for which he had been convicted.

The case continues.

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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)