A BBC wildlife presenter has been cleared of assault allegedly carried out as he filmed a documentary on illegal bird trapping in Malta. He called on the EU to do more to make the island adhere to the bloc’s bird legislation. EURACTIV’s partner The Guardian reports.
Wildlife presenter Chris Packham appeared in a magistrates court on the Maltese island of Gozo today (20 April) charged with two counts of assault.
The wildlife campaigner was on the island making an independent programme when he claimed he and his team were shouted at and shoved.
Packham said he had earlier called police after seeing what he thought was a cage full of birds, including what he believed to be some protected species.
A few hours later he said he had been assaulted but was instead himself charged in relation to the incident.
The presenter tweeted: “NOT GUILTY! And wait until you see our evidence…” after leaving court, having been called into court just after 9.30am local time.
He also posted a photo of himself dressed in a borrowed suit before the court appearance, where he was accompanied by producer Ruth Peacey, who wrote: “As if there was any doubt…”, in response to the decision.
Speaking outside court, Packham told the Press Association: “I’m a free man. It was obvious from the start that these charges were odd and peculiar, because I was the one that was being assaulted and jostled by a man and a police officer.”
Neither of the pair was present for the court appearance, Packham said.
“What’s obviously thrown a spanner in their works very firmly was that we had three pieces of evidence – one sound track and two films – which showed the whole altercation and showed them to be entirely culpable for it, not ourselves. As soon as the judge saw that, his head was in his hands.
“He even suggested that our footage should be sent to an Italian comedy channel.”
Malta is the only EU member state to allow the shooting of birds in spring, having an opt-out from the EU’s Birds Directive, which bans the practice elsewhere. This year, there was a moratorium on the shooting of the rare and endangered turtle dove but hunters legally shot 130 quail.
Wildlife charities and campaigners are calling on the EU to take action against the Maltese government for breaches of the Birds Directive and finally ban spring hunting.
“We need the European Commission to be a bit more demonstrative and energetic in forcing Malta to adhere to the European Birds Directive,” Packham said.
Maltese voters narrowly rejected the abolition of spring hunting in a referendum in 2015 and Packham said his annual visits to the island to highlight the shooting had made him unpopular.
“I get filthy looks from Maltese men of a certain age wherever I go but I’ve had quite a few comments on my Twitter feed from Maltese people saying this shames and embarrasses us, it must be brought to an end,” he said. “A significant number of Maltese people want to be part of modern Europe.”