DNA tests trapped bird breeder who used stolen eggs

Wildlife trade: Dealer jailed after genetic fingerprinting proved falcons were hatched illegally

IAN MacKINNON

A peregrine falcon breeder who bought stolen wild eggs and hatched them using his licensed birds was yesterday jailed for four months.

Peter Gurr, 54, sold the offspring birds, a protected species once in danger of extinction, to other breeders for up to pounds 550 each, claiming he had legally bred them in captivity. But detectives used DNA testing - genetic fingerprinting - to prove he was using stolen eggs.

Judge David Pitman, passing sentence at Snaresbrook Crown Court in east London, told Gurr he had no choice but to impose a jail term to deter others from what he regarded as a serious crime.

Gurr, of Rainham, Essex, a registered keeper, owned or had access to 11 breeding pairs.

Duncan Munro-Kerr, for the prosecution, said Gurr had been approached by a Scottish grouse moor gamekeeper offering to sell the wild eggs for pounds 150 each. The keeper said that if the eggs had not been bought they would have been destroyed to prevent the grown birds attacking the grouse.

Once the eggs were hatched using legitimate pairs, Gurr was able to claim that he had bred them lawfully in captivity, enabling him to obtain the relavent registration documents and sell them on. But during 1993, he claimed to have bred 31 chicks from 45 eggs, a 75 per cent success rate as opposed to the norm of around 25 per cent, attracting the interest of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and police.

The investigation uncovered a nationwide web of Gurr's trade in birds, which earned him pounds 2,590, and led to the homes of a number of keepers being raided by police who took blood samples from their birds for DNA testing.

Under questioning, Gurr admitted buying nine eggs, though he was only charged with six counts of illegally trading in birds from a protected species to which he pleaded guilty.

The use of DNA testing is a technique more often used to track murderers and rapists. That it should have been employed to unmask an operation illegally to sell peregrine falcons indicates the gravity with which police view the offence.

Gurr came to the attention of police and the RSPB after his apparently spectacular breeding successes in 1993. Within months, investigators pieced together a nationwide trail and on 27 February 1994, police from 10 forces raided a number of homes in Operation Dutch Lady, the biggest of its kind.

Vets took samples from 36 falcons, later to rise to 49 after other of Gurr's customers contacted police to see if their birds were related to his breeding pairs. DNA tests showed that at least 23 of the birds had no blood links and must have originated from wild falcons, protected under the worldwide Cites convention and in Britain under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Enforcement Regulations 1985.

After the case, Guy Shor-rock, the RSPB officer who assisted police with the prosecution, said he was pleased the judge had recognised the gravity of the offence. "This is the second custodial sentence for these offences."

Earlier this year, Derek Canning, 33, of Riding Mill, Northumberland, was jailed for 18 months after being convicted of selling the birds illegally.

Mr Shorrock said the success of DNA testing was an increasingly effective deterrent. "Before we had to catch them red-handed raiding the nest," he said. "Otherwise once they get the eggs to their own breeding pairs they were home and dry."

The increased risk of detection also appears to be reducing the danger to the species, which had almost become extinct in Britain 30 years ago because of the effects of pesticides but has recovered to 1,284 pairs.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little