Sissen jailed

Sissen jailed A report in Cage & Aviary Birds week ending 22. April 2000

Parrot breeder branded ’’hypocrite and liar’ by judge in smuggling case

Harry Sissen , one of the world’s leading bird experts, was last week jailed for two and a half years for illegally bringing endangered parrots into Britain.

Sissen, 61, was labelled a liar and a hypocrite by Judge Guy Whitburn as he passed sentence at Newcastle Crown Court. Sissen was convicted after damning evidence from Tory leader William Hague, who told the court how Sissen had admitted to him that he had brought the birds into the country.

Sissen was charged with illegally importing three extremely rare Lear’s macaws and six blue-headed macaws into the UK.

It took a jury of seven men and five women seven and a half hours to find him guilty on a majority verdict. Sissen slumped into his seat stunned at the jury’s decision. As he was led away to start his sentence, he shouted: "If there is a God I can stand in front of him with a clear conscience. I did the right thing."

Sissen’s daughter, Yvonne Scales, broke down in the public gallery and had to be escorted from the court as she watched her father being led away.

Sissen was targeted by Customs & Excise officers as part of an international crack down on the illegal importation of endangered species. He was arrested after a swoop on his Cornhill Farm in East Cowton, North Yorkshire in April 1998. Customs officers seized more than 140 birds in the raid, including the three extremely rare Lear’s and six blue-headed macaws.

He was rumbled as part of the operation, code-named Palate, and had his birds confiscated.

The court heard that during the estimated £1 million investigation, officers discovered how Sissen had bought exotic birds on a number of trips to Yugoslavia and Slovakia and had smuggled them into the country. The court heard how they were worth more to a smuggler than heroin.

Prosecutor Simon Draycott had told the court: "This case involves the smuggling of rare parrots into this country by the defendant. These birds, particularly the Lear’s macaws, are extremely rare animals. They are endangered species. Like any rare item, these birds have a high value to the private collector and a market has grown for these species.

"It is an illegal market and one which involves smuggling the birds into this country and other countries. It is a lucrative market. If it were not, these animals would not be smuggled. It is no understatement to say that pound for pound a rare parrot is worth more to the smuggler than heroin."

Sissen claimed that he had acquired the birds legally years earlier, but during a meeting with Hague and his private secretary on October 30, 1998, he confessed to smuggling rare birds into the country.

Mr Hague took the stand on the sixth day of the four-week trial, peering over the heads of two stuffed Lear’s macaws, and told the jury how Sissen had confessed all on a visit to his surgery in Richmond North Yorkshire.

The jury also heard from several bird experts who described how there are only 180 Lear’s macaws left in the wild and of those only 20 per cent were actually breeding.

The court how they are now a critically endangered species and are the worth more than £50,000 on the black market for a breeding pair.

The jury agreed with prosecutor Mr Draycott that Sissen had smuggled the birds into the UK illegally.

Deep in debt

A former farmer, Sissen became a full-time bird breeder in 1998 and now faces financial ruin after Simon Farrell, defending, told the court how he was deep in debt but was ordered to pay £5,000 towards the £77,500 costs.

The court also heard how Sissen had two other previous convictions for smuggling rare birds into the country.

In1977 he was fined £200 at Durham Magistrates Court for smuggling 20 birds, and in 1981 he admitted smuggling a parrot into the UK in his car.

In mitigation Mr Farrell said: "This has always been an unusual case. Although Mr Sissen has been convicted, I hope the court accepts he was not doing this for the money.

"In breeding those birds he thought he was protecting an endangered species. It is not a situation where he was engaged in criminal activity for profit. It is a very sad situation. He has been a successful breeder for the past 30 years."

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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)