Breeder jailed over parrot smuggling

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The Independent Online

One of the world's leading bird experts was jailed yesterday for two and a half years for smuggling endangered parrots into Britain.

Harry Sissen, 61, was labelled a liar and a hypocrite by Judge Whitburn when he passed sentence at Newcastle Crown Court.

Sissen was found guilty, by majority verdict, of illegally importing three extremely rare Lear's macaws and six blue-headed macaws. As he was led away, he shouted: "If there is a God I can stand in front of him with a clear conscience I did the right thing."

He was convicted after evidence from William Hague, the Tory party leader, who told the court Sissen had admitted to him in 1998 that he had brought the birds into the country.

Sissen was targeted by Customs and Excise officers as part of an international crackdown on the illegal importation of endangered species. He was arrested after a raid on his Cornhill Farm in East Cowton, north Yorkshire, in April 1998. Some 140 birds were seized.

The court was told Sissen had bought the birds in Yugoslavia and Slovakia and smuggled them into the UK. The birds were said to be worth more to a smuggler than heroin. Sissen claimed that he had acquired the birds legally years earlier.

The court heard from several bird experts who described how there are only 180 Lear's macaws left in the wild.

Sissen became a full-time bird breeder 30 years ago and earned an international reputation after successfully breeding the threatened conure in 1975.

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