A SHOTTON man caught in the middle of an illegal cockling operation has been ordered to pay out thousands of pounds.

David Rigby, of Shotton Lane, appeared at Mold Crown Court for sentencing on Friday morning. 

The 38-year-old had previously been convicted after trial of illegally dredging/taking shellfish from the Dee Estuary, the offence taking place in December 2020.

James Coutts, prosecuting, told the court that overnight between December 2 and 3, officers from Natural Resources Wales were investigating illegal cockling in the dee estuary.

They observed five boats moored up at a cockle bay, and as they tide went out - exposing the cockle beds - the shellfish were collected and transported to the Connah's Quay area.

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The boats were left moored for a few hours, to ensure "no one was watching" and at around midnight one of the boats pulled up at the bottom of a slipway at a boatyard in Connah's Quay belonging to Rigby.
When a number of men were seen unloading the haul, NRW and North

Wales Police officers went to the yard, but Rigby was trying to shut the gate to keep them out.

Officers did get into the site however, and around 1,250kg of cockles were recovered.

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First of all Rigby said the shellfish were "nothing to do with him" but then said he had paperwork for them.

When he produced said paperwork, it wasn't legitimate and was "riddled with errors."

It was determined he didn't have a permit for the cockling that had taken place.

The illegal haul would have been worth in the region of £3,750.

Mr Coutts told the court Rigby was absent during his trial as he was on holiday in Thailand.

Oliver King, defending, said: "He works for a seafood processing company in Boston, Lincolnshire.

"He maintains that he didn't deliberately absent himself [from his trial].

"It had been back and forth in the Magistrates Court and he told his solicitor of days he couldn't do.

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"He provided his solicitor with instructions and was represented throughout.

"The cockles were fortunately fresh enough that they could be sold so local and legitimate cocklers were able to benefit from that, and he didn't actually get any benefit."

Judge Niclas Parry told the defendant: "That part of North West Wales is a special, protected area.

"It is special for birds and the cockles are essential to maintain the ecosystem and an environment that is healthy.

"That's why permits are granted and why there's a limit on the cockling that can occur.

"When people who haven't paid for a permit then steal the cockles, it affects the employment of those working legitimately and affects the visibility of their business.

"On top of that, it can mean the taking of cockles that shouldn't have been harvested, which causes a risk to public health.

The Judge made a proceeds of crime order for Rigby to pay £3,750 within the next three months - or face three months in jail.

The defendant was also fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £1,500 costs.

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