Bird smuggler told to repay £150,000

"Bird smuggler told to repay £150,000".Report in the Yorkshire Post on 27th September 2001.

A world-renowned parrot breeder faces jail if he refuses to hand over ill-gotten gains made from smuggling rare species into Britain.

Harry Sissen, 63, of Cornhill Farm, East Cowton, near Northallerton, was jailed for 30 months in April last year for smuggling the birds, a charge he denied, and was brought back to court yesterday by Customs and Excise.

Judge Guy Whitburn QC, who jailed Sissen last year, ordered him to hand over £150,000 made from his criminal activities, after taking account of his assets.

The court heard Sissen now faces selling his remaining birds and his share in the family farm, where he has lived since he was 14.

Customs officers initially claimed he had made nearly £404,000 from parrot smuggling but the judge ruled that some was made through legitimate trading.

Sissen was jailed for 30 months, cut to 18 months on appeal, after a jury found him guilty of smuggling three Lear’s macaws - of which there are only 150 left in the world - and six blue-headed macaws from east Europe, in the biggest case of its kind to come to a British court. The trial, in which former Tory Party leader William Hague gave evidence, attracted international interest.

A five-day hearing last month determined that Sissen, who was released from prison in December, had benefited to the tune of £160,000 from his crimes, but he was told to pay £10,000 less after his assets were calculated.

At the earlier hearing, Judge Whitburn said Sissen had become "wholly obsessed" with breeding rare birds, saying he was prepared to go to any lengths to obtain endangered species for breeding. Customs officers seized 140 birds from his farm in two raids in 1998 as part of Operation Palate, an international crackdown on the importation of endangered species.

They claimed he ran a massive commercial operation to breed from smuggled birds.

Sissen benefited to the tune of £60,000 for the birds he smuggled into the country and for which he was jailed, the judge ruled, and £100,000 for other birds in his possession for which he had no account, although at least some of the birds had been accumulated legitimately.

Sissen, who the court heard had brought birds into the country under a coat and in hidden compartments in his car in the 1970s and 1980s, had not kept records of where his parrots came from.

Yesterday Judge Whitburn ruled Sissen had a £130,400 stake in the farm at East Cowton and would be able to raise a further £2,600, while the prosecution and defence agreed the breeder’s remaining collection of birds was worth £17,000, making a total of £150,000.

Sissen was told he would be jailed for 21 months if he did not pay the confiscation order money within nine months.

Simon Farrell, defending, said Sissen would have difficulty selling his rare birds as they did not have the correct papers, required by an international convention on selling endangered species. Neither would it be easy for Sissen to sell off his 20 per cent stake in the family farm, said Mr Farrell.

However the judge said: "If ever there was a man hoist on his own petard it is your client." Speaking outside court, Sissen said he would have to sell the home he shares with his wife Patricia, adding: "She is devastated. She knows the work and dedication I have put in to breed these endangered birds. They are trying to put me out on the street. I cannot raise £150,000."

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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)