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Swan killer narrowly avoids jail

Swans: The family in Withybush Woods (pic. The Herald)

A MAN who pleaded not guilty to killing swans in Withybush Woods in Haverfordwest appeared in court today (Apr 19) facing charges of being in possession of an air weapon and intentionally killing a wild bird.

However, Gareth George Mattson, aged 32 of Goshawk Road in Haverfordwest, pleaded guilty before the trial went ahead.

Prosecutor, Megan Gilcrest, told the court that Mattson is jointly charged with co-defendants, one of which is a youth, who all pleaded guilty at first hearing except Mattson, who pleaded not guilty and a trial date was set.

She said: “A member of the public attended at All Pets Vet Care in Milford Haven on October 21, 2016, and brought a swan (cygnet) in to the practice, saying it had been shot. X-rays were taken, and due to the damage to the bird, the decidion was taken to euthanise it.

“Two swans recovered on October 24, and a male swan was brought in, but was deceased. It was brought in by a swan rescuse and its body was x-rayed. Two pellets were found inside the bird: One in its abdomen and one in leg. This would have been primary cause of death.

“A second cygnet brought into practice, but no pellets found within the body of the swan, however it did have an injury to it’s wing, and euthanised some time later.”

She explained that Mattson was arrested on January 14, 2017, and in his interview he stated: “I haven’t shot no bird. I wear glasses and couldn’t see the bird.”

When asked if he could have shot it accidentally, he said: “Probably, I don’t know.”

However, evidence from the youth suggested that he did in fact know that he had shot a swan, and had intended to do so.

Probation officer, Julie Norman, said: “I have a high knowledge of this case, having prepared reports on Lawson and Phillips, and they received suspended sentences.
“He has never been in any trouble before – no cautions or convictions.”
She continued: “He knew Phillips. He was an old neighbour of his, but he didn’t know Lawson. Phillips went to his address with Lawson, and Lawson had purchased an air rifle a few days before. Mattson knew of a farm where they could go shooting, and they went to Withybush Woods carpark, and walked through the woods onto private land where he had permission to go shooting.
“It was about 10pm, so it was dark. There were no rabbits to be shot on the land, so they decided to leave and go back to the car. As they were walking back to the pond, Lawson suggested they shoot at the pond. That’s what he did.
“He said he wasn’t the first, but after the first shot was fired he noticed some swans come out. Mattson shot at them and they all took turns. It was dark and didn’t really know where he was shooting, but it is likely he shot one of the swans.”
Ms Norman said Mattson is deeply remorseful, and it not something he would ever ‘normally’ do.
She said: “He knew as soon as one of the shots were fired that it was wrong and could potentially get in a lot of trouble. He is aware he could go into custody today and he is afraid of that.”
Defence solicitor, Jonathan Webb, said: “This is clearly a very emotive case. I’m sure you [the bench] are very well aware yourselves of the outcry. Many people have voiced their opinions.”
The chair of the bench told Mattson that they had listened ‘very carefully’ to what had been said, and sentenced him for five months in prison.
The reason for such an onerous sentence, was to ‘reflect seriousness of offence’ and the delay of a guilty plea.
However, the chair of the bench said: “We have taken into account your previous clean character and the remorse you have shown here today, and have decided to suspend this for 12 months.”
He must also complete 150 hours of unpaid work, and must pay £115 victim surcharge, £60 compensation toward All Pets Vet Care for the veterinary costs, and £350 prosecution costs.
The chair added: “I haven’t got to say how upset the community is about this offence, because you know very well.”