Two men who slaughtered a mute swan were brought to justice after a father and son confronted the pair.
The duo tracked down the thugs after they were spotted carrying away the protected bird from Watergate Lake in Murton by its legs, with its wings flapping down.
I’m really sorry for what happened, it will never happen again.Defendant Neil Carr
It was later recovered having been dumped in a wooded area nearby, after being shot in the neck.
Peterlee Magistrates’ Court heard Neil Carr and David Salmon were confronted as they tried to leave the fishing pond.
Carr, 26, of Webb Avenue, and Salmon, 32, of Toft Crescent, both Murton, admitted killing a wild bird on February 22.
The court heard the men believed they were aiming at a wild goose as they took target practice with an air weapon.
The dead bird was later recovered by a police officer and passed on to the RSPCA.
The bench heard how – even if it had been a goose – it still would have been an offence to harm it under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Denise Jackman, prosecuting on behalf of the RSPCA, said a vet had examined the swan’s remains.
She said: “He said the bird was about eight to nine months old because it still had some of its cygnet feathers and was in a good condition and healthy.
“It had a significant amount of blood around its neck and head.
“An x-ray found three metal pellets in its spine and said death would have been instantaneous.”
The men admitted what had happened when they were interviewed by an RSPCA officer.
Miss Jackman added: “Both say that, when they realised it was a swan, they felt terrible about what they had done and when they saw it they put in extra pellets to alleviate its suffering.”
Miss Jackman explained the SMK air rifle had since been handed into the police.
She explained there was no power to disqualify the men from keeping animals under the case’s legislation.
Both men represented themselves and had entered guilty pleas at an earlier hearing.
Carr told the bench: “I’m really sorry for what happened, it will never happen again. It was an accident and we didn’t mean it.”
Salmon added: “I just want to say how sorry we are and it won’t happen again.”
Each were given 12-month community orders with 100 hours’ unpaid work as well as 25 days of activities.
They were also each ordered to pay £100 towards court costs and £50 towards the vet’s fees, along with a £60 victim surcharge.
Chairwoman of the bench Lynette Harrison said: “We have taken in to consideration your remorse and the fact you admitted what had happened straight away.”