Man accused of shooting protected western marsh harrier granted bail

Police describe defendant as ‘obsessed’ with hunting granted bail after shooting at least one western marsh harrier while it was returning to its roost during the closed season

Western marsh harrier
Western marsh harrier

A young man described by the police as “obsessed” with hunting, has denied shooting at least one western marsh harrier while it was returning to its roost during the closed season.

25-year-old Kinsley Ellul from Marsaskala appeared before magistrate Anne Marie Thake on Thursday afternoon, charged with 13 offences relating to hunting during the closed season and the possession of a Western Marsh Harrier, which is a protected bird species.

Ellul, who told the court that he was currently unemployed, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecuting police Inspector Eliot Magro told the court that the police had received a report that a protected species of bird was being shot at Tas-Silġ yesterday at around 9pm. In addition to the targeting of a protected species, the hunting season is closed at night, explained the inspector.

Sources acquainted with hunting practices explained to the MaltaToday that some hunters wait for nightfall, noting the fields in which marsh harriers had landed in to sleep. They would then approach the sleeping birds, switching on a bright light to startle them before shooting them.

Police officers had gone to the location indicated by the caller, who had followed the suspect to his car. The officers found a wounded marsh harrier in a bucket and three shotguns inside the vehicle. After the man was arrested, a fourth shotgun was seized from his residence.

Lawyer Alessandro Lia assisted the defendant. Lia expressed circumspection at the long list of offences his client was being accused of and argued that many of the charges were intertwined.

He requested bail, arguing that although he had not contested the validity of the arrest, he was insisting that the point of remanding a person in custody was to protect society from the person accused. In this case the defendant was not a danger to society but a young man who still lived with his parents, argued the lawyer, pointing out that his client was also not aware of the identity of the person who had filed the report, nor that of any eyewitnesses.

For the prosecution inspector Magro said his main objection arose from the fact that preliminary investigations had indicated that the defendant was “not a hobbyist but an addict.” Now that the police had suspended his licence, the fear was that he would resort to illegal hunting.

LIa replied that “addicted” was an ugly word, and suggested “passionate” as more fitting. “This person is not a danger to society, all the firearms have been seized and he cannot go hunting,” argued the lawyer.

To this, the magistrate said that “whatever word is used, what is important is that the defendant understands the consequences he will be facing, should he choose to break the law again.”

Having seen the defendant’s criminal record and having heard that there was no risk of tampering with evidence, together with the fact that all of the man’s firearms were currently in the hands of the police, the court upheld the defence’s request for bail.

Before sending the man on his way, the court warned him that his licence had already been suspended and that if he went hunting again, he was facing a lifetime ban.

Ellul’s release from arrest was secured by a €500 deposit and a €4,000 personal guarantee. He was also ordered to sign a bail book on three days every week.