Inadequate sentence for persistent egg thief

Back in February this year, 63-year-old Terence Potter from Huddersfield appeared at Sheffield Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to a number of offences related to the theft of nearly 200 wild bird eggs, including eggs from the red-listed Curlew (see here).

The offences were:

  • Two counts of possessing items capable of being used to take and possess birds’ eggs;
  • Three counts of possession of a wild bird’s eggs (179 black-headed gull eggs, eight golden plover and seven curlew);
  • Three counts of taking wild bird eggs (179 black-headed gull eggs, four golden plover and three curlew)

Yesterday, Potter returned to Sheffield Magistrates Court for sentencing. He was given a 12-week custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay £120 costs and a £128 victim surcharge. The equipment he used to commit the offences was forfeited.

The RSPB’s Investigations team has written a blog about this case (here).

This isn’t the first time Potter has been convicted of stealing wild birds eggs and I daresay it won’t be the last, given this inadequate sentence.

Seven years before he was caught for his latest offences, Potter was convicted of nine related offences including six charges of taking birds’ eggs, two charges of possession of 587 eggs (including a number of Schedule 1 raptor eggs), and possessing articles to commit offences.

His sentence that time? A two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £85 costs (see here, page 9).

[Photo of HGV driver and convicted egg collector Terence Potter in 2013]

In the RSPB blog, Investigations Officer Tom Grose said, “We are pleased with today’s outcome….” (here). I disagree. Yesterday’s conviction is pleasing, of course, and all credit to everyone involved, including the gamekeepers who first reported Potter acting suspiciously, and to South Yorkshire Police, the RSPB Investigations team and the Crown Prosecution Service for their diligence in putting forward the case, but I’m not convinced that a suspended sentence is ‘pleasing’. It’s pathetic for someone who knew exactly what he was doing and the dire consequences of stealing eggs from birds of high conservation concern.

In my view he should have been jailed the first time he was convicted (and the court had the capacity to do that) and most certainly this second time.

Having said that, short custodial sentences aren’t always effective for these weirdly obsessive individuals (e.g. see here).

21 thoughts on “Inadequate sentence for persistent egg thief”

  1. It would be more effective to tag him in the birds breeding season and require that he stayed away from habitat where rare wild birds nest: for the key couple of months April May June for the next 5 years make his movements visible and break his addiction.

    1. I would have done that as a follow up to 6 months in the slammer. the sentence and the costs are bloody laughable.

    2. This seems to be a practical suggestion that certainly merits consideration regarding the best way to deal with someone like Potter. Coupled with a significant fine to act as a deterrent against future offending it might be the best way to prevent him offending again.

      The victim surcharge is a sum that is determined in relation to the court’s sentence and is on top of any fine or custodial sentence. £128 is the amount charged for anyone receiving suspended sentence of six months or less. If I understand correctly the costs order relates only to prosecution costs of the CPS and, by law, cannot include other costs such as the costs of the investigation. This explains the derisory sum which presumably would not come anywhere close to the money spent on the investigation by the RSPB and the Police.

      1. I have said this before and am glad this has resonated this time. I did work for RSPB Species Protection in the 80’s on Red Kites (when they were rare) so have some experience. The comment by Ruth re “weird individuals” is on the nail; this needs to be treated as a form of kleptomania and an addictive trait ie a mental health approach is needed; take these “men” out of circulation until they have reformed. in 84/85 XXXX published a book detailing all the upland Welsh kite sites with OS grid References; and the reintroduction to England occurred after a season in which 25% of 25 nests were robbed and a subsequent letter of mine in The Times re imminent extinction of RK in UK.. Adult egg collectors are pathological and limiting these often first class field naturalists (XXXX was reputed to be able to find Cuckoo eggs from the female’s behaviour and had an egg from every “host/donor species”) . To limit access to their obsession can on occasion be of critical importance. I believe these characters also impacted the last Red Backed Shrikes in East Anglia.

  2. He would have received a more severe sentence for stealing a dozen eggs from Tesco’s. How is this a deterrent?? What message does it send out to other egg thieves or to anyone who wishes to start a collection??

  3. Any wonder we have 50.3% biodiversity left in this country thanks to psychos like this and the pantomime that is our justice system? You couldn’t make this shit up!

  4. I suppose only ground nesting birds are at risk from him, I cant see that [Ed: rest of comment deleted]

  5. We blame the police when they don’t take wildlife crime seriously, but honestly, they must wonder why they bother when they do. I wonder if the magistrate even knows what a Curlew is.
    Peter Hack is right, the only answer is to tag them.

    1. Surely this is worth an appeal in terms of inadequate sentence. I seem to recall that some years ago egg thieves were punished quite severely – are there no examples that can be quoted at appeal?

    2. It possibly can, but the decision on another sentence will be made by the same type of people as the original sentencing judge.
      People in general are heartily sick of the judiciary, the criminal justice system and the whole damned circus.

      1. “People in general are heartily sick of the judiciary, the criminal justice system and the whole damned circus.” I agree with you,Dougie. Time for proper a proper “Justice System”.

  6. The RSPB say that this outcome sends out a strong message regarding the illegal taking of eggs. To my mind the only strong message conveyed is that you can keep on doing it and still get away with it. The offender must have been laughing to himself all the way home. What puzzles me most in this case is why he would want to collect so many Black-Headed Gull eggs.
    Fully agree with Paul Fisher’s comment above.

  7. having worked against egg thieves for a large part of my life from the early 1980s on I can say with some authority that the only thing that stops these criminal pests is jail. Anything less just doesnt work. As for “these often first class field naturalists” mentioned above – they dont impress me, the only thing they are good at is finding and destroying nests – you can train a dog to do that.

  8. WTF quoted:-

    “The RSPB say that this outcome sends out a strong message regarding the illegal taking of eggs. To my mind the only strong message conveyed is that you can keep on doing it and still get away with it. The offender must have been laughing to himself all the way home.”

    ‘RSPB say that this outcome sends out a strong message’

    What on earth is the matter with the RSPB ?
    It is staggeringly inconceivable that anyone in the RSPB could hold such a contrary view. It is reminiscent of some of the drivel that forms part of police comments on wildlife crimes when they trot out the predictable “crimes of this nature will not be tolerated” (or tosh to that effect) when it is plain for all to see that is patently untrue.

    WTF clearly shares the frustration that is common to us all.

  9. Realistically I don’t think any court was going to send a 63 year old apparently obese man to prison in the middle of a pandemic on these charges and anyone who suggests that they should needs to have a word with themselves.

    Tagging and some kind of restriction on his movements during the breeding season for a few years would be the best way to deal with him, and if the system doesn’t allow for that then the system should be changed.

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