A Derbyshire developer has been committed to a crown court for sentencing after magistrates found him guilty of illegally destroying a bat roost while converting a loft of a property.
The Chesterfield court heard how 55-year-old Hargurdial Singh Rai, and his company ISAR Enterprises Limited, ruined the roost while re-building a loft space at a commercial property in Dale Road, Matlock, in 2012. His Birmingham-based development business had bought the premises with the intention of renovating and selling it on.
An ecological report produced as part of the planning conditions identified a roost of brown long-eared bats in the loft space of one of the premises. This, magistrates heard, meant that work could only continue if Natural England issued a licence.
Neither Rai nor his company made any application for a licence and the work to replace the roof went ahead, resulting in the destruction of the bat roost. All bats are classed as European Protected Species and both the bats and their roosts are fully protected by law.
The offences were reported to Derbyshire Constabulary and specially trained wildlife liaison officers, with the assistance of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, investigated the allegations.
Both Rai and his company denied the offences, but were found guilty of breaching the 2010 Conservation of Habits and Species Regulations. The magistrates then said that because of the seriousness of the offences the case would have to be committed to Derby Crown Court for a sentencing and Proceeds of Crime Act hearing.
The committal for a POCA assessment was later described by the Bat Conservation Trust as a “ground-breaking initiative”. A spokesman said the trust was grateful for the work undertaken by both the police and CPS and was pleased to contribute evidence that allowed the matter to be referred to the higher court.
After the case Rod Chapman, senior crown prosecutor and East Midlands wildlife crime co-ordinator, said: “It was our case that Hargurdial Singh Rai knew about the bats’ roosts, but went ahead with the development without the requisite surveys and supervision.
“The laws protecting bats and their roosts are there for a reason, to protect them from decline and in the worst cases extinction,” he added. “This case will serve as a sharp warning to anyone who chooses to ignore the legislation to further their own business interests.”
Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles, who has campaigned for a harder crackdown on rural and wildlife crime, praised the officers whose determined investigation led to the court’s guilty verdict. “Rural and wildlife crime usually takes place without numerous witnesses but this does not preclude a successful investigation as this case shows,” he said.
“I will watch the outcome of the POCA hearing in June with interest, but whatever the decision on the day I think this outcome will cause other developers and builders tempted to make a profit at the price of protected wildlife to consider their actions carefully.”
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