Jailed bird breeder must wait for court ruling on confiscation

"Jailed bird breeder must wait for court ruling on confiscation". A report published in the Yorkshire Post on 25th June 2002

One of Europe’s best-known breeders of rare birds, who was jailed for illegally importing some of the world’s most endangered species, must wait at least six weeks to learn whether he will get back 144 seized by Customs and Excise in a raid on his North Yorkshire aviaries.

District Judge Roy Anderson reserved judgment at the end of a three-and-a-half day civil hearing at which Customs and Excise have argued that Harry Sissen, of Cornhill Farm, East Cowton, near Northallerton, should forfeit the birds, including three Lear macaws of which there are only 150 left in the world.

Mr Sissen, 63, was sentenced to 30 months in jail, later reduced to 18 months on appeal, after a jury found him guilty of smuggling the Lear macaws and six blue-headed macaws at Newcastle Crown Court in April, 2000. He was ordered to forfeit £150,000, said to be the proceeds of criminal activities.

The Customs application to retain the 144 birds, which Mr Sissen values at more than £100,000, was adjourned until yesterday at Harrogate Magistrates Court to allow him to produce DNA evidence which he claims proves beyond doubt that they were bred in his aviaries and not imported illegally.

But soon after James Reeves, of Avian Biotech International, which has its headquarters in Tallahasee, Florida, went into the witness box, his status as an expert witness was challenged by Customs barrister Simon Draycott QC, after he admitted having no university degree and no scientific training. Judge Anderson ruled he could not be called as an expert witness.

Mr Reeves, of Truro, Cornwall, was allowed to present a lab report explaining what proportion of the DNA tests indicated Mr Sissen’s birds were related. Although Mr Sissen told the earlier hearing that the results had come back 100 per cent in his favour, the figures varied.

Mr Draycott told the court the DNA figures were irrelevant and said there was sufficient evidence, including faxes to and from dealers, which amounted to shopping lists, to show Mr Sissen had been actively engaged in smuggling from outside the European Union. The judge’s decision will be given in August or September.

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

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