Constable sentenced over protected bird eggs

21 November 2013

Michael Upson, 52, appeared before Norwich Magistrates Court and admitted possessing eggs from protected birds including Marsh Harriers, Warblers, and Nightjars.  Mr Upson was arrested after RSPB inspectors and police officers searched his home.   

Mr Eamon Lambert, the Magistrate dealing with the sentencing hearing stated that Mr Upson's actions "had a marked effect on the bird population and a serious impact on the environment".  He told Mr Upson that the court had seriously considered imposing an immediate sentence of imprisonment however the court was persuaded to suspend the sentence and he received a sentence of 14 weeks imprisonment suspended for 12 months.  He was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work in the community and to pay £120 towards the costs of the case.   

Police officers found maps and notebooks documenting egg collecting trips with others around the UK and an order has been made for the forfeiture and destruction of those items.  The notebooks detailed visits to the Western Isles to collect Golden Eagle eggs, to South Devon to take Cetti's Warbler eggs, to North Wales to collect Chough eggs and to the New Forest to take Hawfinch eggs.  However, Roger Thomson mitigating on behalf of Mr Upson stated that the notebooks were a "work of fantasy" on Mr Upson's behalf.   

The RSPB stated that Mr Upson claimed to have stopped egg collecting but the information they found at his home indicated that he was active between at least 1991 and 2001.  During the search Mr Upson's egg collection was found in an old suitcase in his loft along with hundreds of egg data cards which he had faked to suggest the collection was old.    RSPB investigations officer Mark Thomas said "that a police officer should knowingly break the law in pursuit of this obsession is shocking, and we welcome his conviction.  We are pleased with the sentence – it is fitting with the evidence heard.  I don't think he is an individual who will go back to egg collecting and thankfully egg collecting is becoming more and more unusual in the UK".  

Mr Upson is no longer employed as a police officer.  Suffolk police confirmed that Mr Upson had most recently been employed by the force as a training officer.    DI Yaxley said "public confidence in the police depends on those serving with us demonstrating the high standards of personal and professional behaviour.  Whilst it is always disappointing when an officer falls below those standards, the constabulary will continue to robustly investigate any allegations of criminal conduct by employees".  

The effect of a suspended sentence is that the offender will never have to serve their prison sentence provided that during the term of the suspension – in this case 12 months – they comply with any conditions to the order and do not commit any further offences.  Therefore Mr Upson for the next 12 months will have to carry out his unpaid work in the community to a total of 150 hours as directed by the probation service and he will have to ensure that he does not commit any further offences during that 12 month period which he may subsequently either plead guilty to or be found guilty of.  If he were to commit any further offences within that 12 month period he would be subject to be sentenced not only for the new offence but also for the court to consider activating all or part of his 14 week sentence of imprisonment.  Equally if he were to fail to carry out his unpaid work in the community as directed then he could be summonsed to court for a breach of the order and again it would be a matter for the court to decide whether or not the order should be allowed to continue or alternatively whether all or part of the 14 week sentence of imprisonment should be activated.

The above is not legal advice, it is intended to provide information of general interest in current legal issues.