9th May 2014

Bat Crime doesn't pay

The Bat Conservation Trust has been following cases of bat crime since 2008. Over this period a worrying pattern has started to emerge that undermines the very necessary legislation meant to protect bats and their roosts; the fines given following conviction are being set at such a very low level that it is working out cheaper for criminals to break the law but the tide may be turning on this injustice.

In August 2013 a case was heard in Bridlington magistrates' court. A developer pleaded guilty and was convicted of six charges of destruction of bat roosts after demolishing six buildings, knowingly destroying brown long-eared bat, whiskered bat and pipistrelle roost sites. Despite this clear admission of guilt, the conviction was marred by the penalty. On each charge the fine was £35 per roost destroyed (a total of £210) with a victim surcharge of £20 and costs of £85.

These rulings inadvertently support a stance that it is cheaper to destroy wildlife. The Bat Conservation Trust has been working with both the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to ensure that sentencing for wildlife reflects the damage done as well as being dissuasive and real deterrent to offenders.

The nature of offences committed against bats means that it is possible to assess the financial profit derived from committing the crime. In many recent cases the defendants had undertaken surveys to assess the costs involved in responsible development. By choosing to demolish roosts without making the necessary provisions the financial benefit can readily be calculated.

On Monday April 28, Chesterfield magistrates' court heard a trial, hearing how Hargurdial Singh Rai, 55, of Birmingham-based ISAR Enterprises Ltd, went ahead with the redevelopment of former offices on Dale Road despite a survey which identified the site as a resting place for brown, long-eared bats.

The court heard how an ecologist originally concluded the site was a roost after he had been instructed by an architect acting for ISAR. Mr Truscott later noticed development work had started on the site and informed police. A wildlife crime officer and police attended and discovered the bat roost had been destroyed.

The Bat Conservation Trust assisted both the police and the prosecution with the provision of an Expert Witness Statement detailing the conservation impacts of the act and outlining the amount (a total of £5,737) Rai had sought to save through the illegal destruction of the roost.

The Magistrates found Rai, of North Drive, Handsworth, Birmingham, and ISAR Enterprises Ltd guilty of destroying the resting place of a protected species between March, 2011, and July, 2012.

In a ground breaking decision the court, instead of imposing a sentence on Mr Rai and Isar Enterprises have referred the case to Derby Crown Court in order that consideration can be given to confiscating assets belonging to the offenders equivalent to the amount saved by not following lawful processes. In addition the Crown Court will impose a penalty for the offences. The case was adjourned to Derby Crown Court for confiscation and sentencing on June 2.

It is hoped that the costs provided as part of the prosecution will be used as a baseline for sentencing. If so, this case will be the first time that the proceeds of crime act has been used in a wildlife crime case resulting in a fine that really does send the message that bat crime doesn't pay.

Other recent cases include:

  • Mr Michael Taylor a builder of Marshbrook Lane, Hailsham appeared at Hastings Magistrates Court on Tuesday 1st April 2014 where he pleaded not guilty to a charge of destroying a bat roost. He was convicted of the charge and was given an unconditional discharge with no award of costs.

This was an unusual case in that it was Mr Taylor who reported the finding of bats whilst demolishing a small outbuilding. Unfortunately he chose not to follow the advice to stop work given by helpline staff and the volunteer bat roost visitor. For a number of reasons the matter could not be dealt with outside the court system. This case is important for bat conservation demonstrating that in the view of the Crown Prosecution Service the public interest demands prosecution in many circumstances where intent is evident and with no remorse being show.

Contact: Joe Nunez jnunez-mino@bats.org.uk or 0207 820 7168 for more information, images and interviews. (Out of hours: 07984 545 531)

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