New sentencing for environmental crime

Magistrates to be given new sentencing guidance today to help them crack down on the 3,000 environmental crimes committed in Britain each year, including the theft of rare birds' eggs and breaches of pollution laws. The Environment minister, Michael Meacher, and the Magistrates' Association will publish 42 template sentences for environment offences.

The guidance is intended to prevent lenient sentencing and end the variation of penalties imposed for similar offences by different magistrates' courts. Magistrates have worked closely with the Environment Agency, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the National Crime Intelligence Service to draw up the new guidelines.

A spokeswoman for the Magistrates' Association said yesterday: "In some cases the prosecution has not been that good, and all the facts have not come out."

In one of the case studies, magistrates are asked to sentence a company that has admitted repeat offences of black smoke pollution. The case is based on a real offence in which a defendant was fined £1,500 fine for burning industrial rubbish over 10 years. A more realistic penalty should have been about £15,000.

Researchers also found magistrates imposed a £1,500 fine on a company that had imported £350,000 of shahtoosh wool shawls made from the coats of the endangered Tibetan antelope. Up to 1,000 animals had been killed to make the 138 shawls.

In another case, a man caught selling three Lear's macaws was given an absolute discharge, though fewer than 150 birds remain in the wild.

More than a million items were found by Customs in the past four years. But, says the report, only 30 prosecutions have resulted from 2,211 shipments of endangered animals during this period.