A PENSIONER who was found guilty of gunning down a protected bird of prey has been left with a bill of more than £2,000 after an RSPCA investigation landed him in court.

Peter Smith, of Clifton Close, Barnsley was charged with killing a sparrowhawk at Hope Street Allotments, Mapplewell, in February last year.

The 77-year-old, who pleaded not guilty, was convicted following a trial at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court in December.

He returned on Wednesday and was given a £2,172 bill which was made up of court costs of £1,500, a £480 fine and a £192 surcharge.

Magistrates were told Smith - who kept pigeons at his allotment - was recorded by a witness carrying an air rifle and was confronted about shooting the sparrowhawk.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “He was observed by a witness discharging the air rifle having been alerted by the sound of a sparrowhawk apparently attacking a pigeon.

“Mr Smith claimed he had missed with his shot but the sparrowhawk was found dead soon after - it had been shot with a pellet and its neck was broken.

“There is legislation in place to protect the species as it is an apex predator and plays an important role in the environment.”

Although sparrowhawk numbers are said to be stable across the country, the court was told Barnsley’s population has reduced by 25 per cent in a decade due to persecution.

The maximum penalty for killing a sparrowhawk is an unlimited fine and six months’ imprisonment.

The RSPCA estimated their investigation costs of being around £6,000 but sought £1,500 from Smith due to his age.

Amy-Jo Cutts, defending Smith, added: “He rented his allotment for six years and used the site to keep, breed and train his pigeons, which he has had a history of doing so for more than 30 years.

“As a result of the allegation, he has lost his tenancy and had to get rid of his birds.

“He’s put a lot of time and effort into his hobby and visited them twice-daily but he has now been ostracised from that circle.

“He still maintains his innocence.”

Chair of the bench Lynn Fairbridge ruled out a custodial sentence but told Smith that the offence was a ‘serious’ one.

“This involved a protected bird and there’s a legal precedent,” Ms Fairbridge said.

“The RSPCA pitched down the costs of £6,000 and I’m in agreement with this given your circumstances.

“You will pay a total of £2,172 but I believe the biggest punishment for you personally is that you’ve lost your social activities.”

Given Smith’s personal circumstances, the court granted permission for him to pay the bill back at a sum of £5 per week - which would take nine years to pay back in its entirety.

A spokesperson from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, added: “Encountering a sparrowhawk bursting into your garden is an unforgettable experience.

“One of our smallest birds of prey, these are powerful, agile hunters and it’s a rare treat to see them in action.

“All birds of prey are protected by law and anyone found to have killed one could face jail.

“Sparrowhawks were heavily persecuted in the past and sadly, despite legal protection, continue to be illegally killed, with shooting the most common method.”