Published: 12:57, 17 August 2021
| Updated: 15:15, 17 August 2021
Bird dealers scatter as police raid a pub in one of the UK's biggest ever wildlife busts.
One man's legs can be seen thrashing about as he desperately tries to escape while another flings a caged bird under a pub bench.
Bird dealers flee The Bell in Leytonstonw
In one of the biggest wild bird operations in the UK officers from the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit stormed The Bell in Leytonstone, east London.
The pub was being used as meeting place for dealers from across the UK, including one man from Kent, on Saturday, February 2, 2019.
It was one of four properties raided that morning, with the operation resulting in more than 270 wild birds being seized and the eventual convictions of 17 men.
An RSPCA officer who led the investigation, who cannot be named for operational reasons, said: “When we went into the pub we found a large group of men had congregated inside and outside in the beer garden, many carrying small bird cages. We discovered 40 cages of wild birds including goldfinches, linnets and a siskin, as well as 27 canaries and mules (or crossbred birds).
“We also executed warrants at three private addresses where we found a number of wild birds being kept illegally. At one home, we discovered 190 wild birds being kept in cages, including 165 goldfinches.”
The final man in the investigation - Adnan Icel, 60, of Southchurch Road, Southend-on-Sea - was sentenced this week after being found with six goldfinches in his possession at the pub.
During the warrant at his home address, officers found 190 wild birds being kept illegally.
His trial was part-heard in 2020 and concluded in February 2021; he was convicted on July 19 of six offences under the Animal Welfare Act and Wildlife & Countryside Act. On Monday he was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years, and disqualified from keeping all birds for life. He was also ordered to pay £28,000 in costs.
His conviction marked the end of a two-year investigation which also saw 16 others - Essex, London, Kent, County Durham, Hertfordshire and West Yorkshire - fined or handed suspended sentences.
Goldfinches, parrots and canaries were seized from them during the probe alongside traps, which in one instance had caught and killed a thrush in one man's garden.
RSPCA SOU chief inspector Will Mitchell added: “The illegal trapping and trading in wild birds has long been a problem. Taking a wild bird from its natural habitat and shutting it in a tiny cage is cruel. These birds can suffer immeasurably, not only physically but also mentally, and they often die shortly after being captured.”
Detective Constable Tara Wilson of the Met’s Wildlife Crime Unit said: “This was a lengthy, proactive joint investigation between the Met’s Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSPCA, which resulted in the largest ever seizure of wild captive British birds. I would like to pay tribute to the dedication and hard work of many units and colleagues throughout the Met that worked on this case.
“The protection of our wildlife is extremely important in London and a responsibility the Met takes seriously. All wild British birds, their nests and eggs are protected in UK law, birds taken from the wild often get injured and do not live long after capture, due to the shock and trauma from free flying and then being confined to a cage. I hope this case reassures the public we will do everything in our power to detect, deter and disrupt wildlife crime.”
All of the wild birds were taken into care by the RSPCA - with more than 150 going to the charity’s Mallydams Wildlife Centre, in Hastings, East Sussex, where staff set about rehabilitating and releasing them. The crossbred birds and domestic species were successfully rehomed.