Two year investigation.

Two year investigation.

The 13-day crown court trial was the culmination of almost two years of investigations by Customs & Excise, following two raids on the Sissens’ farm in April and May 1998.

The case took 15 months to come to court, and there followed eight months of adjournments and committal hearings before the case began at Newcastle on March 20 with a week of preliminary hearings. He gave evidence for the prosecution concerning the details of a discussion between himself and Harry Sissen in which he claimed the noted bird keeper admitted smuggling parrots, a claim which he denied.

This was the first time a Leader of the Opposition had given evidence in a criminal case against a constituent.

According to William Hague’s secretary, Claire Gibson, who also gave evidence at the trial, the MP was not prepared to comment on how he felt about contributing to the jailing of someone who came to him for help.

The raid on the Sissens’ farrn followed the announcement of an international crackdown by Customs & Excise officers on the illegal importation of endangered species.

The Sissens heard about the planned crackdown on the news and welcomed the strong line promised on illegal bird traffickers, little realising that their aviaries would be the first to be raided in an operation codenamed Palate.

International wildlife crime is now an issue held in such high esteem by politicians that it ranks more highly than burglary and car crime.

The Government’s tough stance on crimes against rare species is reflected in legislation currently going through Parliament.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Government policy has taken into account the seriousness of such crimes and want this sort of offence avoided in the future.

"With this in mind, it has introduced measures to crack down, such as the three-year strategy concerning PAW (the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) and a Bill currently going through Parliament seeking to increase sentences and fines to reduce the number of crimes relating to the illegal trafficking of endangered species," said the spokesperson.

"It is hoped that this tough line will send signals to criminals that this sort of activity will not be tolerated.

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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)