Falconer’s career in ruins after he forged eagle’s passport

Jonathan Marshall

Jonathan Marshall - Credit: Archant

A celebrity falconer’s media career is in ruins after he forged an animal passport for his Golden Eagle so he could appear on the ITV Alan Titchmarsh show.

Jonathan Marshall was seen by millions of viewers flying alongside the eagle Samson in a microlight but the moment of glory was to be short lived for both man and bird.

Marshall has been banned from keeping large birds of prey and made subject of a suspended jail sentence after a Judge branded him as ‘dishonest and very criminal’.

He has been ordered to forfeit Samson the Eagle but Exeter Crown Court was told the six-year-old giant bird is dead, apparently shot by a gamekeeper in August 2013, a month after police started their investigation.

Marshall , aged 46, is one of Britain ’s best known falconers, running displays at country shows and stately homes all over Britain.

He is now bankrupt and his remaining birds have been transferred into the ownership of his girlfriend, who employs him to organise shows.

The highlight of his career was his appearance on the Alan Titchmarsh show in January 2013 but he has also featured on the BBC’s Countryfile.

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He was hired for the show after hitting the headlines in 2012 when Samson flew off during a display at a wedding in Berkley Castle in Gloucestershire and reappeared having made a miraculous 100 mile flight to Escot, near Honiton, Devon .

By an extraordinary coincidence Marshall was being filmed at the very moment he spotted the eagle above him and his Youtube video of his tearful reunion has clocked up tens of thousands of views.

The National Trust booked him to run Bird of Prey shows at its stately homes but have cancelled the deal as a result of his conviction.

Marshall , of Swan Hill Road Colyton, admitted falsifying a permit for Samson under the Endangered Species regulations and keeping the eagle without the necessary registration under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Two further charges of stealing a kestrel and allowing a barn owl to escape into the wild were dropped by the prosecution.

He was jailed for five months, suspended for two years, banned from keeping endangered birds of prey for five years by Judge Francis Gilbert, QC, at Exeter Crown Court.

He was also ordered to forfeit Samson if the eagle is found to be alive despite Marshall ’s claim that he is not.

The Judge told him:”You should have pleaded guilty to this months ago but you have tried to avoid responsibility for what was very criminal activity.

“You forged a permit allowing you to keep Samson using a form relating to another bird, a merlin, so you could take advantage of the opportunity of good publicity by appearing on the Alan Titchmarsh show on TV.

“That was all done for your own benefit. It was not something of no consequence. It was an act of considerable dishonesty.

“It was forgery and dishonesty and if successful it would have driven a coach and horses through the legislation which protects the birds from which you make your living.

“You also collected Samson from the Hawk Conservancy. You did not register him to your address. I regard that as a serious offence.”

Miss Bathsheba Cassel, prosecuting, said Samson needed special registration as an endangered species to show he had been bred in captivity and not taken from the wild.

The document is called an EU Article Ten permit but when police raided Marshall ’s home they found it to be a forgery, knocked up on a computer using that of another bird with the details changed.

She said:”In an interview with police he accepted he had modified the permit to enable him to take Samson on the Alan Titchmarsh show.”

She said Marshall had gone to live in Spain for a short time in 2010 and while abroad left Samson with the Hawk Conservancy. On his return in September 2011 he picked up the bird but did not take back its registration.

Miss Emmi Wilson, defending, said:”My client is a professional falconer who takes great pride in making his living by flying birds and putting on performances for the public. He has a huge passion for what he does.

“In terms of these offences he says he is terrible at paperwork. He saw the opportunity of getting great publicity of the Alan Titchmarsh show. Samson did have a registration. He was not trying to deceive anyone.”

She said the BBC had not asked to see the document and he had used the other bird’s registration as a template because it contained all the details the programme asked him to supply.

Miss Wilson said all the birds named in the charges are now dead. Samson is thought to have been shot in 2013 while the barn owl and the kestrel were killed by foxes.

She said Marshall was not able to pay the £1,500 costs of bringing the case to court because he is bankrupt and his birds and business have been transferred into the name of his partner.

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