Published: 00:01, 29 November 2016
A farmer who brutally killed two swans and critically injured a third by beating them around the head with his shepherd’s crook has been fined thousands of pounds.
David Thompson, 80, of Rosehall in Snargate on Romney Marsh had earlier pleaded guilty through his solicitor to killing the birds when he found them among the rape seed crop on his farm in April.
Thompson was caught by a coastguard helicopter pilot who spotted the farmer chasing after the birds in the field having beaten three around the head.
Pilots were carrying out a test flight from Lydd Airport. The helicopter hovered for a while and watched Thompson before turning on the cameras and capturing video footage of him tossing one of the swans into a ditch at the edge of a field, which was shown to the court.
Thompson sat in the dock hunched forward looking to the ground as the video was played to the court.
He spoke only to confirm his name and address and that he would be paying the costs of £7,970 in full by cheque today.
The pilots notified the police who searched the property later on April 23 and found the three birds severely injured.
Video: Thompson was fined thousands for killing the swans
Police searched the farm at 11pm that night and found two swans were already dead after suffering severe head trauma and a third was critically ill.
Three swans were recovered from the farm, one was already dead and a second sadly passed away en route to the vets in the back of an RSPCA van.
The surviving swan was taken to the Mallydams Wildlife Centre in Hastings where it was cared for for 18 days before being released back into the wild.
Today, magistrate Christine Lunn said in passing sentence: "We've looked at this very disturbing case in some detail and we note the aggravating features are the facts that multiple swans were killed or injured.
"You carried one by the wing and deposited in a drainage ditch and chased another. This was all because of a loss of temper.
"It was by trying to stop swans eating your crops.
"We've taken into account the no previous convictions and good character and attempts to alleviate previous problems and early plea in that you handed yourself into police.
"Taking into account the offence as a whole we're going to fine you £7,500."
Thompson's brother was initially arrested for the offence but was later de-arrested after Thompson handed himself into police a month later.
He was interviewed at Folkestone Police station where he gave a no comment interview, Canterbury Magistrates Court heard.
Defending Oliver Saxby QC said: "He regrets his actions. It's upsetting to him and his family but he does regret what he did.
He's been in the countryside since he was born and respects the laws of nature."
Mr Saxby said the incident took place two months into lambing season but that Thompson had no intention to cause harm.
His day began at 4am and when he went out to check the flock that day found a ewe and a lamb injured "by some kind of predator".
The court was told: "I accept this might be a part of farming but it was a loss of temper.
"He entered the field and saw swans eating their way through the field.
"He's spoken to bird reserve and asked them to plant a crop of rape seed to stop them coming onto his land."
But the reserve did not decide to plant any crop on its land, the court heard.
Mr Saxby added the defendant had planted some 30-40 acres of wild flowers on the edge of his land in a bid to entice the wildlife away.
"He did a lot to help resolve this problem," said Mr Saxby.
"Chasing then off is confirmed from the statements of the pilots.
"In doing that he was totally within his rights. Having said that it wasn't a very sensible thing because they reacted by coming to him or refusing and staying put.
"He was upset at what happened earlier in the day.
"He accepts it was an appalling ugly scene that developed.
"But his intention was to chase them off."
Mr Saxby added the crook Thompson was carrying "turned into a weapon" but that he was only carrying it because he had been "tending to his flock" and that it helps him get around the farm.
In mitigation, Mr Saxby said: "If there's degrees of swans, mute swans are the least of the protected swans. We're not dealing with the most protected type of bird."
He argued sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act - which could have seen a custodial sentence passed - state that they apply only to domestic animals and that they "are in a very different category to wildlife".
Thompson was convicted under the Wildlife and Countryside Act which sets out different sentencing guidelines carrying a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment.
He failed to attend court at his first hearing earlier this month with solicitor Matthew Knight telling the court Thompson "couldn't face being here".
Speaking after the initial hearing, RSPCA inspector Dave Grant said: “There is no doubt these poor swans would have suffered - they were bashed about the head brutally and repeatedly. It would not have been a quick death.
“When we arrived one of the swans was already dead, and a second barely alive - just raising his head weakly. It was so sad.
"Thankfully there was a happy ending for a third swan, who was treated by a vet and nursed back to health in our care, before being released back to the wild.”