A cockler told a court he jumped into the freezing waters of the River Dee and swam off because he feared he was being chased by robbers.
Mechanic Andrew Green claimed he believed the load of cockles, worth about £900, which he had been asked to transport up the slipway at Dock Road in Connah’s Quay, at 6am one morning in December, was legitimate.
There had been a spate of robberies because cockles were so valuable and when he was suddenly confronted by a road block and men approached the vehicle he believed he was about to be robbed and attacked, he said.
But magistrates yesterday rejected his story and convicted him of aiding and abetting illegal cockling and obstructing a fisheries officer.
He ended up with £3,815 in fines and costs and magistrates also confiscated his Jeep valued at £300 and a trailer valued at £1,000.
The court heard how police and Environment Agency Wales officials had been involved in an overnight covert surveillance operation and watched as boats came ashore with cockles.
They moved in and blocked the road as the vehicle started to pull the cockles away.
Green’s vehicle stopped, reversed, hit a fence and then drove off but got stuck in a gateway.
Prosecutor Gwyn Jones told Flintshire magistrates Green jumped from the vehicle then ran off, chased by officers who shouted to him they were fisheries officers, but he continued to run and then plunged into the River Dee.
He was seen to swim across the dock, climb a ladder on a wall at the other side and he was later found cold and wet inside a container.
A number of agency officials and a police officer described the operation to magistrates. About seven or eight people had been involved that night, two Polish men had been arrested but others fled on foot and in boats.
Green said he had a contract with a large cockle company to transport cockles from various estuaries throughout the country.
While it was illegal to cockle during darkness, it was not illegal to transport them and he was often asked to pick cockles up in the early hours because of the tides.
He said that day he had been called by a man who he knew to be a licensed cockler to pick up a load and did so.
But he panicked when his way was suddenly blocked and men, all but one dressed in black, approached.
Cockles were scarce and very valuable and he ran off and jumped into the Dee fearing he was going to be robbed, he said.
He agreed he had not told that story on arrest, but he said he was freezing cold, shaking, and could hardly speak.
Defence barrister James Coutts said it was not usual for movement certificates to be kept in fishermen’s cars. Green had intended to take the load to a nearby car park where the paperwork would be checked, but the authorities intervened.
Mr Coutts told the court that once the Jeep and trailer had been seized, his client had been forced to buy them for £2,000 from the owners and was now out of pocket.
Magistrates said they were satisfied that Green must have known illegal cockling had taken place.
A police officer had stopped the vehicle and identified himself, he was in uniform, the defendant with his experience was familiar with agency officers uniforms, and they therefore found him guilty of both offences. Green was fined £2,000 with costs of £1,815.