News fact sheet issued by HM Customs and Excise

News fact sheet issued by HM Customs and Excise on 14th April 2000

Today at Newcastle Crown Court Harry Sissen, a well known UK Bird breeder and dealer, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and ordered to pay £ 5,000 costs after being found guilty on four charges of smuggling rare parrots. This is believed to be the longest sentence ever given in the UK for offences concerning illegal trade in endangered species.

UK Customs began investigating Sissen in April 1998 after receiving information from a concerned conservationist and from police that he was dealing in parrots covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The investigation took almost two years and involved co-operation with the authorities in at least six other countries across Europe and in South America. Over 140 CITES Appendix 1 and Appendix II birds worth hundreds of thousands of pounds have been seized as a result and other investigations may follow.

In the end Sissen was charged with smuggling offences concerning three Lear’s Macaws and a fourth smuggling offence for blue-headed macaws. Further charges of illegal sales of other protected species of parrot were dismissed during the trial. The Lear’s macaws are among the rarest parrots in the world with probably less than 100 pairs left in the wild in their natural habitat in Brazil. A single Lear’s is estimated to fetch £ 40,000 or more in the illicit market. In sentencing Sissen the trial judge dismissed his claims that his illegal activities were justified on the grounds of conservation and called him "a hypocrite" and "a liar".

Robin Cooper, head of H.M Customs Environmental Criminal Enforcement Policy, said " This is an excellent result for us. It demonstrates the value of international inter-agency co-operation and sends out a strong warning to other environmental criminals that they will be tracked down and prosecuted."

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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)