A pensioner has been sentenced over the deaths of five rare birds of prey, after being linked to their bodies through a DNA hit.
Frances Addison, 72, a part-time gamekeeper, pleaded guilty to 19 charges in connection with a raptor persecution investigation.
However, it remains unknown who killed the five goshawks.
The birds, which are considered rare as there are believed to only be around 500 breeding pairs in the entire country, were found shot dead in a car park in Kings Forest, near Wordwell in Suffolk on 16 January 2023.
Suffolk Police swabbed the birds at the scene for human DNA and then x-rayed them as part of their investigation.
All five birds were found to contain multiple pieces of shot and a human DNA hit was registered from a swab of one of the bird's legs.
The DNA findings led Suffolk and Norfolk police, assisted by RSPB Investigations and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, to search Addison's home in nearby Weeting.
Officers found evidence of a number of firearms offences and illegal traps.
Addison claimed he had found the goshawks and then put them back. He also told investigators that all gamekeepers killed birds of prey, according to the RSPB.
At Norwich Magistrates’ Court Addison pleaded guilty to 19 charges in connection with the death of the goshawks.
He was sentenced to 12 weeks' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay £1,080 in compensation and £105 costs.
All birds of prey are protected by law, and to kill or injure one could result in jail and/or an unlimited fine, said the RSPB.
The charity's annual Birdcrime report for 2021 revealed 108 confirmed incidents of birds of prey being shot, trapped or poisoned. However, the true number is likely to be far higher, it said.
The report also found that Norfolk had a higher number of confirmed raptor persecution incidents than any other county in 2021.
It remains unknown who shot the goshawks despite significant rewards on offer from RSPB, Wild Justice, and Rare Bird Alert.
Mark Thomas, UK head of investigations at the RSPB, said: "Goshawks are an exhilarating apex predator, so it was both shocking and appalling to see images of the five shot birds discarded in the Breckland Forest car park.
"We applaud the efforts and professionalism of Suffolk Police in deploying key forensic techniques that have led to court charges in this case."
Sgt Brian Calver, of Suffolk Constabulary’s Rural and Wildlife Crime team, said: “This is a particularly disturbing case.
"Bird of prey crime is a national wildlife crime priority, which is taken very seriously by police. We will leave no stone unturned in pursuing criminals that cause deliberate harm to wildlife."
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