A magistrate threw out a ‘time-wasting’ hearing with his head in his hands as Hampshire-based TV naturalist Chris Packham was cleared of assault while filming an illegal bird trapping documentary, the presenter said.
The Southampton-born host of BBC Springwatch, who lives in the New Forest, pronounced he was ‘a free man’ after being cleared of two counts of assault when he appeared in a magistrates’ court on the Maltese island of Gozo before Joe Mifsud on Thursday.
The wildlife campaigner was on the Mediterranean island ma king an independent programme when he claimed he and his team were shouted at and shoved.
Packham said he had earlier called police after seeing what he thought was a cage full of birds, including what he believed to be some protected species.
Some hours later he said he became the victim of an assault, but was instead himself charged in relation to the incident - charges he dubbed ‘odd and peculiar’.
The presenter tweeted: ‘NOT GUILTY! And wait until you see our evidence...’ after leaving court, having been called into the courtroom just after 8.30am (9.30am local time).
He also posted a photo of himself dressed in a borrowed suit ahead of appearing at court, where he was accompanied by producer Ruth Peacey, who said the magistrate had thrown the case out. She tweeted: ‘As if there was any doubt...’
Speaking outside court, Packham told the Press Association: ‘It was obvious from the start that these charges were odd and peculiar, because I was the one that was being assaulted and jostled by a man and a police officer.’
Neither of the pair was present on Thursday, Packham said.
He went on: ‘What’s obviously thrown a spanner in their works very firmly was that we had three pieces of evidence - one sound track and two films - which showed the whole altercation and showed them to be entirely culpable for it, not ourselves.
‘As soon as the judge saw that, his head was in his hands.
‘He even suggested that our footage should be sent to an Italian comedy channel and remarked at some point: ‘Is it any wonder we have problems when the police are acting like this?’’
While Packham was filming a roadside interview, two men jumped out and began shouting at the presenter and his team, shoving them aggressively, Packham’s agent said on Wednesday.
The police are said to have taken the side of the men before ‘manhandling’ Packham and the team off the site.
Packham, who said he spent three hours at a police station following Tuesday’s confrontation, said the saga had been ‘time-wasting, money-wasting and intimidation’.
The 55-year-old said: ‘Obviously we’ve had to give up our time today for this, where we could be out looking for illegal activity and reporting it.’
He said he was not fazed by the encounter, which was ‘part and parcel of what we have to go through to achieve what we want’.
The positive side of the experience was that it will draw public attention to ‘the constant problems that BirdLife Malta have when trying to get the law upheld’, he added.
Only quails are legally permitted to be hunted during Malta’s spring hunting season, but BirdLife Malta said protected species were paying the price.
By April 14, the official toll of protected birds known to have been shot during the season was 15, including a marsh harrier and a dying turtle dove.
The crew have been filming the documentary Malta: Massacre On Migration, which will air in May, and are due to fly back to the UK on Thursday afternoon.
Packham said he will not be taking any legal action.