By Kevin Heath
The former manager of Barn at Beal’s bird of prey centre near Berwick has been sentenced to nine weeks suspended prison sentence, 150 hours of community service and banned from owning birds for 10 years. Thomas Burford, 22, was found guilty of sustained cruelty of birds in his care by Newcastle magistrates.
Burford took over the running of the Barn at Beal’s in March last year after training as a falconer. But his defence stated that it soon became too much responsibility and care of the birds suffered.
Burford pleaded guilty to the nine charges of cruelty including cruelty to barn owls and European eagle owls.
Burford had studied animal management at Kirkly Hall and had over three years of work experience as a falconer.
His mistreatment of the birds was discovered after a tip-off to the local wildlife crime officer. A falconer who was visiting the centre for a day out filmed Burford allowing a member of the public to drag a bird of prey across the ground with a rope after the birds talons become entangled in the rope.
Northumbria Police wildlife crime officer, Colin Heath, visited the centre following the tip-off and discovered birds, including protected species, being kept in dirty cages some without food or water. Dead chicks being feed to the birds of prey had maggots crawling in them due to poor food hygiene and some birds were in very poor condition and some had infections.
Further investigation also revealed that Burford did not have the correct permits and licences for display of the birds.
PC Heath later visited Burford’s home and discovered birds tethered to the floor in appalling conditions surrounded by bird and dog faeces and without food or water. More birds were found in the garden and others in a dark garage.
Burford’s defence stated that he had too many birds to look after and that the situation was more about neglect than deliberate ill-treatment of the birds.
As well as the prison sentence which was suspended for 18 months, community service and ban on keeping birds for 10 years – which can not be appealed for at least 5 years – 4 birds of prey were also confiscated.
Burford no longer works at the Barn at Beal’s bird of prey centre.
In sentencing Burford, Chairman of the magistrates William Wright said: “Thankfully we do not get too many animal cruelty cases in our court, but this is a particularly nasty one.”
PC Heath said: “Despite Burford’s business being closed due to the conditions animals were being kept, he continued to keep animals at home in equally appalling conditions.
“This sentence should warn people who fail to ensure animal welfare we will work with other agencies to take action against them and make sure they are dealt with by the courts.”