The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

Hunter accused of shooting stork in 2020 is acquitted after charges are withdrawn

Wednesday, 20 April 2022, 12:16 Last update: about 3 months ago

A man with nine previous convictions for illegal hunting has been cleared of shooting a stork in 2020 after the prosecution withdrew six of the nine charges and failed to exhibit his firearms licence.

Officers from the Administrative Law Enforcement unit arrested Ryan Bonnici in April 2020 after receiving reports of shots being heard in the Żebbiegħ area, where a Black Stork, which is a protected species, was targeted.

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During his arraignment, the court heard how Bonnici’s vehicle had been stopped and searched in Għargħur with police officers discovering a loaded, modified firearm hidden in a compartment behind a seat. A later search of the man’s home returned another firearm and other items of interest.

The man had been charged with hunting during the closed season, being in possession of a firearm and ammunition in the countryside during the closed season, attempting to hunt at an hour stipulated as prohibited in his hunting licence, carrying a firearm in public without a licence issued under the Arms Act and possession of modified ammunition containing lead shot which was larger than permitted at law.

Bonnici had also been charged with making illegal alterations to the shotgun and storing it in an unsafe manner, as well as failing to abide by the conditions of his weapons licence.

The case had been reassigned to magistrate Elaine Mercieca in July 2021.

In a judgment handed down this morning, the magistrate noted that from the acts of the case it emerged that the prosecution had withdrawn the first five charges relating to hunting and the charge relating to making unauthorised alterations to the shotgun, leaving only the charge relating to the illegal ammunition and a generic breach of his weapons licence.

The court noted that a firearms expert had testified to finding the serial number of the Beretta shotgun seized by the police to have been drilled off and replaced with a fake one.

But the magistrate also observed that the central piece of evidence to the weapons-related charges would have been the man’s firearms licence. This evidence was not exhibited by the prosecution. In its absence, the court said it could not assume whether the accused had a firearms licence or otherwise. “Neither can it assume that the accused was not licensed to make the alterations he is charged with having made.”

With regards to the storage of the shotgun in a compartment behind the rear seats of his car, the magistrate observed that “although the possession of that firearm could have possibly been illegal, depending on that stipulated in the accused’s licence - evidence which was not exhibited in these proceedings - it did not emerge that it had been stored in such a way as to easily come into the hands of others, as it had been inside a hidden compartment at the back of the car.”

Ruling that none of the remaining charges had been satisfactorily proven, the court declared Bonnici innocent.

The prosecution is understood to be considering an appeal.

Inspector Elliott Magro prosecuted. Lawyer Ishmael Psaila was defence counsel.

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