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Swan killer sentenced for ‘disgusting’ act

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

A 19-YEAR-OLD man who killed a family of swans at Withybush Woods in Haverfordwest with three other people appeared at Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court today (Mar 28).

Joseph Lawson, who now lives in Derbyshire, pleaded guilty to possessing an air weapon in a public place, possessing 0.9 grams of cannabis and jointly killing swans.

Lawson had also failed to attend the previous hearing relating to the death of the swans, and was charged with failing to appear at court.

Prosecutor, Vaughan Pritchard-Jones said: “This case has attracted public and press attention. A family of swans were shot and suspicion fell on three men and one youth.

“Enquiries were made, and police spoke to a lady who live in the same block of flats as Lawson. He turned up and asked her to hide his air rifle and said the police were after him.”

The court heard that the lady in question was very unwell, and agreed to hide the rifle.

He continued: “He turned up the next day to collect it, and she overheard that he wanted to get rid of the gun because he didn’t want the police to match the pellets with it. He asked her to give him an alibi. However, she told the police and he was arrested with three others.

“This was a joint enterprise, and they are all equally responsible. One adult pleaded not guilty, the youth was given a referral order and the other adult, Phillips, was given a four month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months.”
He told the court that in total, four people went out shooting, and Lawson believed that Mattson, who has pleaded not guilty, had permission to shoot on private land.

Mr Pritchard-Jones said that Lawson claims he has suffered from a lack of sleep since the incident.
He said: “His intentions were to get a rabbit or a duck to eat. They started to try and find them, but found none.”

In his statement, Lawson said: “I had the gun. I am not from here, and I don’t know the area very well. We went to the woods and saw a pond but there were no ducks.”

He explained that there was a conversation about shooting ducks, to which the youth said would be ‘funny as f**k’.

He said: “I am easily led, and I shot the swan. As soon as I did it I put my head down in disgrace. I could not believe what I had done.”

He said in his statement, that he told the group that they needed to kill the swan to put it out of its misery, to which his co-defendant, Benjamin Phillips, said ‘It’s f***ing evil leaving it like that’.

He added: “It’s the lowest thing you can do, like. I’ve been feeling very low and have thought about suicide. I get help by phoning my mum.”

Mr Pritchard-Jones explained that four swans were injured in total. The wing of a cygnet had been ‘completely severed’, and was alive when it was recovered, but had to be put down by a vet.

The male swan was found dead with two pellets in its body: One in its wing, and another in its abdomen. Another cygnet also had tearing injuries, which implied that a pellet had passed through it.

Probation officer, Julie Norman, said: “This is a very unpleasant case. He bought the rifle a few days before, and the plan was to go out shooting ducks.

“It was around 8pm so would have been pitch black. He said there was peer pressure on him, and he made one shot, and the others took the rest.”

She continued: “He has mental health issues. Alongside that, he has chronic substance misuse and self harms. He has scars on his arms, and he self harmed yesterday (Mar 27) in police custody.”

Defence solicitor, David Williams, said: “I wish to express on his behalf his sincerest apologies and deep remorse of becoming involved in this incident.

“He is a young man and has never been to prison before. He has significant mental health problems. He has struggled with his mental health from the age of 8-years-old. His recent self harm was when he handed himself in yesterday.”

Mr Williams also explained that Lawson has psychosis and borderling split personality disorder.

Lawson told the court: “I am very sorry for my actions and what I have done.”

Chair of the bench, Cllr David Simpson, told Lawson: “We think that what you have done is disgusting. If you have read the local paper, you will have seen the anger and venom produced from this. People have been disgusted.”

Lawson was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 12 months. He must also pay £115 victim surcharge, £85 prosecution costs and £60 towards veterinary costs.