A FATHER and son involved in the illegal sale and lucrative trade of peregrine falcons have avoided a prison sentence.

Twenty-two chicks and eggs were taken from protected nests in Berwickshire and sold on to wealthy clients for thousands of pounds and then used for racing in the Middle East.

Forty-eight-year-old Timothy Hall was ordered to carry out 220 hours of unpaid work as an alternative to custody while his son Lewis, 23, was given an order involving 150 hours.

Both men were also banned from having any involvement with birds of prey for five years.

Jedburgh Sheriff Court was told that the men are also still subject to an investigation from the HM Revenue and Customs due to the substantial amounts of money involved while a Proceeds of Crime hearing against Lewis Hall was continued for another six weeks.

Sheriff Peter Paterson had previously continued the case for the defence to supply figures on how much had been obtained from legal sales of bred peregrine falcon but had not been declared to HMRC.

Defence lawyer Brian Cooney said that from bank accounts only £2,182 had been received from lawful sales between August 2019 and June 2020.

No figure was given for the amounts the pair received from the unlawful sales of peregrine falcon eggs and chicks.

Sheriff Peter Paterson said he had already reported the case to HMRC "and no doubt they will carry out their own investigation".

Mr Cooney, representing Timothy Hall, said his client recognised the seriousness of the matter.

He added: "He has been extremely worried since the start of the proceedings about the prospect of a custodial sentence. 

"He is not going to have any any involvement in the breeding of birds going forward for
obvious reasons."

Gordon Williams, representing Lewis Hall, said his client had a long interest in birds of prey caring for his first kestrel aged just 12.

He continued: "He went into this venture with his eyes open making use of his skills, experience and knowledge.

"He has a caring and genuine interest in falcons and made use of his talent."

The lawyer also pointed out his client's age, lack of record and good employment history.

Sheriff Paterson said he was satisfied Timothy Hall had reached the custody threshold.

But he added: "However the Criminal Justice Social Work Report identifies an alternative to that. 

Given your previous good conduct and that you pose no on-going risk for this or any other criminality I am prepared to follow the recommendation of the report."

Relating to Lewis Hall, Sheriff Paterson did not feel he had reached the custody threshold due to his age, maturity and lack of record so he said the 150 hours of unpaid work would be an alternative to a fine.

The offences came to light following a joint operation by Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA, which involved a search of the Hall family home at Lamberton Holdings, close to the Scotland-England border. 

Police found a number of birds when they searched Timothy Hall's home in Berwickshire in May 2021.

The door was answered by his wife Suzanne, a serving police officer, who had her not guilty pleas relating to the case, accepted at a previous hearing.

Timothy, who has been described as a part-time gamekeeper; and his son Lewis, previously pleaded guilty to charges relating to 22 peregrine falcons, including being involved in the illegal sale of the endangered species.

Timothy Hall also admitted being in possession of the birds - which are protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act  - and failing to provide clean water and adequate perches for them as well as a breach of the Firearms Act by not properly securing a shotgun at his property.  

The court heard his firearms licence had previously been revoked as a result of this.

Iain Batho, head of the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit at the Crown Office, told a previous hearing the matter was first brought to the attention of the authorities in April 2021 by George Smith of the Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group.

They accessed known nests in the Duns and Hutton areas of Berwickshire and noticed that eggs were missing.

Mr Batho said evidence was uncovered during the search of the Halls' home which showed large financial transactions involving thousands of pounds involving the sale of the birds being paid into Lewis Hall's bank account, who then transferred money into his parents joint account.

Mr Batho told the court that Scottish peregrine falcons are highly sought after in the Middle East where they are used for racing.

In this case, the alarm was raised about potential eggs and chick thefts of wild nests in the south of Scotland by Mr Smith.

He had grown concerned that several nests had failed to produce any offspring when they had previously done so.

Police visited several sites with Mr Smith including one at Borthwick Quarry near Duns which had four eggs in the nest in April 2021.

They spotted marks in the gravel  indicating someone had recently climbed up to it.

Similar evidence was found at a separate nesting site at nearby Hutton.

Mr Batho said that police officers and the Scottish SPCA had carried out a raid at the Hall residence in May 2021 after intelligence showed their potential involvement.

Mr Batho explained how DNA evidence was taken from a number of birds
found at the home - including seven newly hatched chicks. 

Unhatched eggs were also found in two incubators.

Both men claimed the babies were bred in captivity but tests showed they were not related to any of the adult peregrine falcons owned by the men.

But two chicks were later found to match the DNA of an adult birds from the quarry site while one was linked back to the Hutton nest.

Mobile phones and a drone were also examined which showed that it had been used on 20 separate occasions to fly to known nest sites.

Addressing historical falcon sales, which date back to 2019, Mr Batho said Lewis Hall was paid for one female chick. 

He then transferred £1,875 to a joint bank account belonging to his parents.

A second chick was sold in 2020 for £2,000. 

Four more were sold for £10,964 in June  that year.

Just days later eight chicks - which were just days old - were sold for £25,700. 

Lewis Hall later transferred £1,500 to his parents' account along with an additional £13,500.

Records showed Timothy Hall had swapped a female peregrine falcon for another bird of prey which can cost up to £10,000.

Details of the father and son's attempts at disguising their criminality through official channels were also detailed in court.

Mr Batho explained: "On May 11, 2020, Lewis Hall registered three separate clutches of eggs - consisting of 14 chicks - to the Animal Health and Plant Agency. 

"He gave the hatch date and details of who their shared parents were."

But he then declared that each of the three clutches - allegedly laid by the same female falcon - had hatched 22 days apart which Mr Batho said was biologically impossible. 

He added that Lewis Hall was able to obtain official certificates meaning he "was able to sell to legitimate buyers".

An examination of their records showed that Lewis Hall had registered several chicks using parent birds that were either already dead or belonging to a third party.

Timothy Hall also previously admitted leaving a loaded shotgun on the floor of a bedroom at the family home - breaching the conditions of his licence.

The father-of-two also admitted a further charge of failing to meet the needs of an animal after adult birds were found without access to water and "unsuitable" housing.