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Leading Norfolk owl conservationist in court over "cutting corners" on paperwork

PUBLISHED: 06:59 21 May 2015 | UPDATED: 08:34 21 May 2015

Norwich Crown Court. Photo: Adrian Judd.

Norwich Crown Court. Photo: Adrian Judd.

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A leading Norfolk owl conservationist, who has dedicated his life to the helping with breeding programmes, found himself in court after he "cut corners" to save cash and provided wrong paperwork with a pair of Tawny owls he sold.

Michael Horne, 45, sold a pair of young Tawny owls for £150 to a buyer but used paperwork from a previous pair of chicks, who had died a year earlier, Norwich Crown Court heard.

Kevin Eastwick, prosecuting, said that the buyer realised the birds were younger than stated in the paperwork and returned the birds to Horne, who gave him his money back, but the buyer also informed police about the matter.

Mr Eastwick said that Horne, who is a well established breeder of birds, specialising in owls, told police that rather than pay another £31 each for the documents, he tried to save money by using the regulation papers of the pair of chicks that had died. Mr Eastwick said he had also then swapped the same birds without the correct paperwork in place.

Horne, of Church Road, Tilney St Lawrence, admitted breaching the regulations and was fined a total of £750 and ordered to pay £250 costs.

Jonathan Goodman, for Horne, said that he had a passion for wildlife and animals since he was a schoolboy and had only shown “care and dedication”

“He is dedicated to conservation and breeding.”

Mr Goodman said that finances were tight for Horne and when both chicks had died and they had been given correct certificates he had filed them and used them for the new chicks, “They had the same DNA and the same pair of parents.”

He said that Horne was a leading authority on owl breeding and had helped in the past with expert advice.

However he had a family to support and keeping the birds was a big financial commitment and he was under stress at the time:

“The food bill for the owls is £320 a month. He makes very little money and selling them brings in less than the upkeep of the birds.”

He said Horne had swapped the birds to ensure improvements to owl breeding programmes.

Sentencing him, Judge Anthony Bate accepted Horne was of exemplary character and testimonials handed in at court showed the high regard in which he was held for his owl breeding programmes.

“You have been an enthusiastic breeder and supporter of owls for many years indeed.”

He added: “You decided stupidly to cut corners and recycle certificates that had been issued to other owls”

He said it was a venture that was bound to fail as the owls would be a year younger than they should be.

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