Ghost of parrot haunts Hague.

A report by Paul Wilkinson in the Times on 31st March 2000

(Website editor: This report in the Times, the well known daily broadsheet newspaper, refers to a front page article two years ago inThe Sun, a popular daily red-top tabloid in the U.K, which recycles allusions to the dead parrot sketch in a Monty Python programme transmitted decades ago endlessly and tediously on every possible occasion. Harry Sissen apparently had two Lear’s macaws in his possession at the beginning of the 1990s stuffed and mounted after they died. These were discovered by Customs and Excise officials at the time of the raid displayed in his home and duly confiscated with the live birds.)

Parrots are probably not William Hague’s favourite birds. When the Tory Party was at its lowest ebb in October 1998, The Sun grafted his head on to a front-page picture of an upside-down parrot, likening him to John Cleese’s dead bird in the Monty Python sketch.

Mr. Hague came face to face with two more parrots yesterday - to be specific, two stuffed and mounted macaws, sitting in front of him at Newcastle Crown Court - when he appeared to give evidence against a constituent accused of smuggling endangered rare parrots into Britain. The trial judge told counsel that he wanted no jokes and the Tory leader steered well clear of any quips.

He was called to court by Customs and Excise as part of the case against Harry Sissen, a breeder accused of illegally importing macaws, which are endangered. Customs officials had seized more than 140 birds in a raid in April l998 on Mr Sissen’s conservation centre in East Cowton, near Northallerton, in Mr. Hague’s Richmond constituency in North Yorkshire.

Early in his evidence, the Tory leader drew a gentle rebuke from Judge Guy Whitburn for speaking too quickly. "I am not Hansard," he said.

Mr Hague told Simon Draycott, for the prosecution, that he had met Mr Sissen at constituency functions and visited his aviaries as part of his constituency duties.

"He was emphatic that he was not, in general, a smuggler of birds or eggs," He said " but on occasion he had smuggled three birds out of Yugoslavia. It was some years before, when the violence and war was breaking out."

Mr Sissen has pleaded not guilty to six charges of illegally importing three Lear’s macaws and six blue-headed macaws under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.

He also denies two charges of selling a palm cockatoo and a hyacinthine macaw against the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1985.

Cross-examined by Stephen Farrell for Mr Sissen, Mr Hague agreed that he knew nothing of Glaucous, Lear’s or Blue-headed macaws. Counsel then earned a swift rebuke from the judge when he said: "Or anything about the Norwegian Blue?" - the fictitious bird from the Python sketch. "I thought we agreed no wise-cracks," the judge said.

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)