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The BBC's Richard Wells
"They were worth more to a smuggler than heroin"
 real 28k

Friday, 14 April, 2000, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Parrot expert jailed for smuggling
Lears macaws
The macaws were worth 50,000 each
A rare bird expert accused of smuggling nine endangered parrots worth 50,000 per pair into the UK has been jailed for two and a half years.

Harry Sissen, 61, was found guilty at Newcastle Crown Court in a case which saw Tory leader William Hague called as a prosecution witness.

Sissen, from East Cowton, Northallerton, North Yorkshire, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Three of the birds seized by Customs and Excise in 1998 are Lear's macaws, of which there are only 180 left in the world. They command a black market value of 50,000 per breeding pair.

Sentencing Sissen, Judge Guy Whitburn said: "You were motivated by your desire to achieve that which has only been achieved twice in America, the successful breeding of Lear's macaws in captivity.

'Liar and hypocrite'

"The birds belong to Brazil and that's where they should stay. There are after all 150 or so left in the world.

"The verdicts prove you both a liar and a hypocrite."

After conviction, prosecutor Simon Draycott told the court that Sissen had two previous criminal convictions for smuggling birds into Britain from 1977 and 1981.

Earlier, Mr Draycott said that Sissen brought the birds into Britain from eastern Europe without necessary documentation between 1997 and 1998.

Harry Sissen: Denied the charges
Harry Sissen: Denied the charges
During the four-week trial Mr Hague also revealed that Sissen had confessed to him that he had smuggled rare birds into Britain on a previous occasion.

Customs and Excise officials and conservationists gave evidence, stressing that this was the biggest case in British legal history concerning the smuggling of rare species.

The jury returned its verdict after seven and a half hours deliberation, convicting Sissen on four counts of smuggling.

The Lear's macaw originates from a small corner of north east Brazil and is rarer than the Giant Panda, Tiger and Black Rhino.

The birds, which have been kept at a secret location while the case was being brought to court, will now be returned to Brazil where the government is to oversee their return to the wild.

According to Customs officer Rob Hastings-Trew, the birds had endured a long journey before their arrival in Britain.

Speaking after the case, he said: "They were originally captured in Brazil and taken to Yugoslavia where we believe Harry Sissen purchased them.

"They then travelled back across several frontiers before finally being brought into the UK through Dover."

RSPB investigations officer Duncan McNiven added: "This is an important verdict in the most serious case of endangered species smuggling ever to be brought before a British court.

"Mr Sissen acted with a total disregard for the critical situation which this species faces in the wild and his selfish actions have helped to edge this beautiful parrot closer to extinction."

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