Appeal against £62,000 damages for pigeon slaughter rejected

Maurice Weir celebrates the verdict outside the Court of Appeal
Maurice Weir celebrates the verdict outside the Court of Appeal

The Countryside Alliance has lost its appeal against a Co Armagh pigeon fancier being awarded £62,000 damages for the alleged slaughter of his stock by hunt club hounds.

Senior judges in Belfast have rejected arguments that the killing of 59 racing birds by dogs breaking into Maurice Weir’s premises on the Kinnego Road in Loughgall eight years ago never happened.

Lawyers for the alliance suggested it had been a fraudulent and fabricated claim by a man who destroyed his own pigeons by wringing their necks.

But after the Court of Appeal threw out all grounds of challenge Mr Weir declared himself fully vindicated.

He said: “My credibility was called into question, and I’m just happy that it’s been dismissed as tittle-tattle.”

Mr Weir sued the alliance over the alleged intrusion into his property by the Kinnego Grange and Canary Hunt Club’s animals.

At a previous hearing he recalled emerging from having lunch in February 2009 to discover “a bloodbath”.

Up to 15 hounds had broken into lofts and aviaries and killed pigeons highly sought for their ability to fly home from as far away as France, according to his account.

He said he saw dead and injured birds lying on the ground and in dogs’ mouths.

Mr Weir also told of hearing crunching noises and witnessed two hounds pulling a pigeon apart as he tried to chase the pack off.

At the time of the incident he had planned to start up a small stud business at his home, the court heard.

He sought damages for the killing of his pigeons, consequential loss, the cost of repairing his aviaries and a further payout for distress and injury to feelings.

Counsel for Mr Weir claimed the huntsmen were negligent in failing to control their dogs.

In February last year a High Court judge held that the plaintiff was an honest and straightforward witness whose account was corroborated by others at the scene.

She ruled that the hounds had been on his property, gained entry to the lofts and aviaries and, on the balance of probabilities, killed the pigeons.

Mr Weir was awarded £59,580 in damages, with a further £2,500 for distress and injury to feelings.

The alliance sought to have her verdict overturned, arguing again that the hunt’s dogs were never on the premises.

In a wide-ranging challenge its barristers questioned the credibility of Mr Weir and an independent expert.

To succeed, according to the three appeal judges, the alliance had to establish the hounds had no propensity to attack or kill pigeons, were not on Mr Weir’s land and that the scenario he depicted was “a complete farrago of lies”.

However, Lord Justice Gillen held there was ample evidence for the conclusion that the dogs can inflict heavy losses on the birds.

He also ruled: “We are therefore unable to conclude that (the trial judge) has gone plainly wrong in arriving at the conclusion that on the balance of probabilities the incident alleged by the plaintiff did occur.”

Rejecting all other grounds advanced, he confirmed the appeal was being dismissed and awarded costs to Mr Weir.