Return seized birds, judge tells Customs

"Return seized birds, judge tells Customs". A report in the Northern Echo, a British regional daily newspaper on Thursday, 21st November 2002

A parrot breeder who claims to be an expert at saving endangered species from extinction was described as an arrogant Jekyll and Hyde character yesterday by a district judge in deciding whether Customs and Excise were entitled to confiscate some of his rarest birds.

The hearing follows raids on Harry Sissen’s aviaries at Cornhill Farm, East Cowton, near Northallerton, which led to him being sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court to 30 months in prison - reduced to 18 months on appeal - for smuggling rare birds into Britain.

District Judge Roy Anderson, who heard four days of evidence in the civil hearing earlier in the year, told Sissen he must forfeit three Lear macaws and six blue-headed Macaws, which were the basis of his conviction at Newcastle in April, 2000. He claims there are only 150 Lear macaws left in the world. Sissen, 63, had placed a value of over £100,000 on the 144 birds, some of which have died since they were seized by Customs in two raids in 1998.

Sissen, who had previous convictions for illegal imports dating back to 1977, claimed he had bred all the birds or had acquired them legally. Judge Anderson ordered Customs and Excise to return some of the birds, but told the former farmer that what had started out as a hobby had become an obsession, as his success gave him an international reputation which resulted in zoos and other specialists loaning him breeding stock. It had led to arrogance which was illustrated by the way he had run his business almost exclusively in cash and was not registered for VAT, even though he was selling birds valued at thousands of pounds.

As a result he had been forced to "scrabble round" to trace contacts to try to establish his birds were acquired legally when Customs and Excise had sought the forfeiture order. Judge Anderson said Sissen began breeding birds before imports were restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna in 1976. Evidence suggested Sissen had acquired breeding birds by working with shadowy figures such as a man known only as Zlatco from Slovenia and another called Dave, whom he met in roadside lay-bys in the south of England.

Judge Anderson said: "Mr Sissen is a man who has contributed greatly to the preservation of endangered species but on the other hand was a person prepared to break the law. He is a Jekyll and Hyde character." After hearing that Sissen had not paid £150,000 which the Newcastle trial judge, Guy Whitburn QC, ordered him to hand over as the proceeds of his criminal activities, Judge Anderson made no order on a Customs and Excise application for £80,000 costs in the forfeiture hearing.

Outside Richmond Magistrates Court where Judge Anderson gave his reserved judgment, Sissen said the legal action would continue. "I am very grateful to the judge because in my opinion his job was impossible - as was mine. I was given an impossible task to prove that my birds were legal."

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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)