Archive for the '2009 persecution incidents' Category

30
Dec
13

31 eagles, 7 years, 0 prosecutions

In April 2012, we wrote an article called ’21 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

In September 2012, we updated it and called it ’26 eagles, 6 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

In July 2013 we updated it again. This time, ’27 eagles, 7 years, 0 prosecutions’ (see here).

Here’s the latest version: 31 eagles, 7 years, 0 prosecutions.

This article should provide some context the next time you hear someone (usually from the game-shooting industry or from the government) say that “we’re making real progress in the fight against raptor persecution”. So much ‘progress’ in fact that 13 of these eagles have been lost in the last 3 years; 4 of them this year, the so-called Year of Natural Scotland.

As before, a number of eagles included in this list (7 of them, to be precise) may not be dead. However, they are included here because their satellite tags unexpectedly stopped functioning (i.e. they’d been transmitting perfectly well up until the eagles’ last known location, often a known persecution hotspot). Two further satellite-tagged eagles (‘Angus’ and ‘Tom’) are not included in this list as although their transmitters stopped functioning, there had been recognisable problems with their tags prior to the final transmissions and so the benefit of the doubt has been applied.

A couple of eagles have been added that should have featured in the previous version but we’ve only just received details about them.

Many of these listed eagles from recent years have only been discovered because the eagles were being satellite-tracked. Much kudos to the dedicated teams of fieldworkers who have put in hours and hours of skilled hard work to allow this to happen. Obviously there are many other eagles out there that have not been sat-tagged and on the balance of probability will have been killed at the hands of the game-shooting industry. 31 eagles in the last 7 years is the bare minimum. The number of prosecutions (zero) is undeniable.

Dinnet & Kinord May 2006MAY 2006: A dead adult golden eagle was found on the Dinnet & Kinord Estate, near Ballater, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation. Seven years and 7 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

Glen Feshie June 2006JUNE 2006: A dead golden eagle was found on Glen Feshie Estate in the Cairngorms. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary launched an investigation. Seven years and 6 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

Peebles August 2007AUGUST 2007: A dead adult female golden eagle was found on an estate near Peebles in the Borders. She was half of the last known breeding pair of golden eagles in the region. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Lothian & Borders Police launched an investigation. Six years and 4 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

bird-nNOVEMBER 2007: Tayside Police received a detailed tip-off that a young male white-tailed eagle (known as ‘Bird N’) had allegedly been shot on a grouse moor estate in the Angus Glens. The timing and location included in the tip-off coincided with the timing and location of the last-known radio signal of this bird. Six years and 1 month later, the bird has not been seen again. With no body, an investigation isn’t possible.

~

White G Glenquioch May 2008MAY 2008: A one year old male white-tailed eagle hatched on Mull in 2007 and known as ‘White G’ was found dead on the Glenquoich Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned by an unusual concoction of pesticides that included Carbofuran, Bendiocarb and Isofenphos. A police search in the area also revealed a poisoned buzzard, a baited mountain hare and 32 pieces of poisoned venison baits placed on top of fenceposts on the neighbouring Glenogil Estate. Laboratory tests revealed the baited mountain hare and the 32 poisoned venison baits contained the same unusual concoction of highly toxic chemicals that had killed the white-tailed eagle, ‘White G’. Five years and 7 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

Glen Orchy 2009JUNE 2009: An adult golden eagle was found dead at Glen Orchy, Argyll, close to the West Highland Way. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Strathclyde Police launched a multi-agency investigation. Three years and 3 months later, estate employee Tom McKellar pled guilty to possession of Carbofuran stored in premises at Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy and he was fined £1,200. Four years and 6 months on, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning the golden eagle.

~

Alma Millden 2009JULY 2009: A two year old female golden eagle known as ‘Alma’ was found dead on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed she had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Alma was a well-known eagle  – born on the Glen Feshie Estate in 2007, she was being satellite-tracked and her movements followed by the general public on the internet. Tayside Police launched an investigation. Four years and 5 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

August 2009 Glenogil WTEAUGUST 2009: A young white-tailed eagle was found dead on Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Tayside Police was criticized in the national press for not releasing a press statement about this incident until January 2010. Four years and 4 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

Skibo GE May 2010MAY 2010: #1 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. Three years and 7 months later, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning this eagle.

~

Skibo GE2 May 2010MAY 2010: #2 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. Three years and 7 months later, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning this eagle.

~

ge headMAY 2010: #3 of three dead golden eagles found on or close to Skibo Estate, Sutherland. Tests revealed they had been poisoned; two with Carbofuran and one with Aldicarb. Northern Constabulary launched a multi-agency investigation. One year later (May 2011), Sporting Manager Dean Barr pled guilty to possession of 10.5 kg of Carbofuran stored in premises at Skibo Estate. Three years and 7 months later, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning this eagle.

~

ge headJUNE 2010: #1: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

~

ge headJUNE 2010: #2: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

~

ge headJUNE 2010: #3: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

~

ge headJUNE 2010: #4: Leg rings with unique identification numbers that had previously been fitted to the legs of four young golden eagles in nests across Scotland were found in the possession of gamekeeper James Rolfe, during a multi-agency investigation into alleged raptor persecution at Moy Estate, near Inverness. It is not clear how he came to be in possession of the rings. The bodies of the eagles from which the rings had been removed were not found. No further action was taken in relation to the discovery.

~

ge headJUNE 2010: A golden eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. Three years and 6 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

WTE Farr & Kyllachy June 2010JUNE 2010: A white-tailed eagle was found dead on Farr & Kyllachy Estate, Inverness-shire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Northern Constabulary apparently did not search the property until July 2011. Three years and 6 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

Lochindorb WTE Dec 2010DECEMBER 2010: A decomposing carcass of a white-tailed eagle was found and photographed on Logie (Lochindorb) Estate, Morayshire. It was reported to Northern Constabulary. By the time the police arrived to collect it, the carcass had disappeared. The police said they couldn’t investigate further without the body.

~

ge headFEBRUARY 2011: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle ( ‘Lee’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from the North Angus Glens. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

~

Glenbuchat GE March 2011MARCH 2011: The body of a young golden eagle was discovered on North Glenbuchat Estate, Aberdeenshire. Tests revealed it had been poisoned by the illegal pesticide Carbofuran. Grampian Police launched an investigation and raided the property in May 2011. Two years and 7 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

wtseAPRIL 2011: The body of a white-tailed eagle was found at the base of cliffs on Skye. The person who discovered it (a professional medic) considered it to have been freshly shot with a rifle, decapitated with a sharp implement and thrown from the cliff top. He took photographs and alerted Northern Constabulary and RSPB. There was a delay of two weeks before the now probably decomposed carcass was collected. A post-mortem was inconclusive. This incident was not made public until one year later after a tip off to this blog. Two years and 8 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

ge headSEPTEMBER 2011: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Strathy’, hatched in 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from an Aberdeenshire grouse moor. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

~

Lochaber poisoned ge March 2012MARCH 2012: The body of a young golden eagle being tracked by satellite was discovered in Lochaber. Tests revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticides Aldicarb and Bendiocarb. Information about this incident was not made public until three months later. One year and 9 months later,  nobody has been prosecuted.

~

ge headMARCH 2012: The signal from a satellite-tracked young golden eagle (‘Angus 26′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after a final signal from a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. This bird’s suspiciously damaged sat tag was found in the area.

~

ge headMAY 2012: The signal from a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (#32857) unexpectedly stopped transmitting when the bird was north-east of the Cairngorms National Park. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

~

Deeside GE May 2012MAY 2012: The dead body of a young satellite-tracked golden eagle (hatched in 2011) was discovered near a lay-by in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. The data from its satellite tag & the injuries the bird had when found (2 broken legs) suggested it had been caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens and then removed, under cover of darkness, to be dumped in another area where it was left to die, probably a slow and agonising death. Information on this incident was not released until almost five months later, by the RSPB. It appears the police failed to properly investigate this incident as we understand that no search warrants were issued and no vehicles were searched. One year and 7 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

Wanlock Head GE Oct 2012OCTOBER 2012: An adult golden eagle was found shot and critically injured on grouse moor at Buccleuch Estate, near Wanlockhead, South Lanarkshire. The bird was rescued by the SSPCA and underwent surgery but it eventually succumbed to its injuries in April 2013. One year and 2 months later, nobody has been prosecuted.

~

ge headMAY 2013: The signal from a two-year-old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Angus 33′, hatched in 2011) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after it’s last signal from North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

~

ge headJUNE 2013: A dead golden eagle was found on an RSPB reserve on Oronsay. This bird had been shot although it is not known whether this was the cause of death or an historical injury.

~

ge headJULY 2013: The signal from a young satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Cullen’, hatched 2010) unexpectedly stopped transmitting after its last signal in Aberdeenshire. A technical malfunction or another mysterious ‘disappearance’?

~

Fearnan Angus Glens Dec 2013DECEMBER 2013: A two year old satellite tracked golden eagle (‘Fearnan’) was found dead on a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. Tests revealed he had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran.

08
Apr
13

John Dodd sells Glenogil Estate

Sunday Times 7th April 2013 Glenogil saleJohn Dodd, the multi-millionaire owner of the controversial Glenogil Estate, has ‘quietly sold up’, according to an article in the Sunday Times.

The new owner is reported to be Baron Ferdinand von Baumbach, someone we know little about. Although we’re not sorry to see Dodd leave, it’s not so much who owns the estate that interests us, but rather whether (a) they intend to maintain it as a driven grouse moor and if so, (b) who will be advising on grouse moor ‘management’.

It’s been widely reported that Dodd took management advice from ‘grouse wizard’ Mark Osborne (e.g. see here) and indeed Glenogil is promoted on Osborne’s William Powell Sporting website as ‘one of the finest shooting estates in Scotland’ (see here), as well as on the William Powell Country website (here). It’s not just Osborne who rates this estate: last year The Field magazine included Glenogil in an article called ‘Britain’s 50 Great Shoots’ (see here) and in 2008 The Telegraph described it as a thriving grouse moor (see here).

However, for those of us with more of an interest in the area’s wildlife rather than with the artificially-high number of grouse that can be killed, you have to look elsewhere for information. A good place to start is the RSPB’s annual persecution reports. Below is a list of confirmed incidents recorded at Glenogil and ‘Nr Noranside’  from 2006-2010, sourced from these reports and also from Scottish Government data. Not one of these reported incidents has resulted in a criminal prosecution and Dodd has repeatedly and strenuously stated his staff are innocent. Dodd had his farming subsidy cut by £107,650 in 2008 when the Scottish Executive suspected that poisoned baits found on and near to the estate in 2006 were being used to target birds of prey (see here).

2006 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose)

2006 April: poisoned tawny owl (Alphachloralose)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned woodpigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2008 May: poisoned white-tailed eagle (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb) ['Nr Noranside']

2008 May: poisoned buzzard (Bendiocarb) ['Nr Noranside']

2008 May: poisoned mountain hare bait (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb) ['Nr Noranside']

2008 May: 32 x poisoned meat baits on fenceposts (Carbofuran, Isophenfos, Bendiocarb) ['Nr Noranside']

2008 Oct:  poisoned meat bait (Carbofuran) ['Nr Noranside']

2009 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2009 August: poisoned white-tailed eagle (Carbofuran)

2010 May: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) ['Nr Noranside']

2010 September: poisoned buzzard (Chloralose)

2010 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2010 October: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2010 October: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

John Dodd was the co-founder of Artemis Investment Management Ltd., a company that has sponsored the GWCT’s Scottish Game Fair (see here).

The Sunday Times article can be read in two parts:

Part 1 Glenogil sale Sunday Times 7 April 2013

Part 2 Glenogil sale Sunday Times 7 April 2013

07
Apr
13

Going to the Scottish Birdfair? Read this first

PrintThere’s an article today in the Sunday Herald about the RSPB’s controversial choice of venue for next month’s Scottish Birdfair. For the second year running, the RSPB has chosen to hold this event at Hopetoun House, the stately home of Lord Hopetoun whose family also owns the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire, a grouse moor that has been at the centre of raptor persecution allegations for years. Sunday Herald article here.

Regular blog readers will know we’ve commented on this issue at length: see here, here, here, here, here and especially here.

In today’s article, veteran Scottish Raptor Study Group member Ronnie Graham urges potential Birdfair attendees to “make an informed decision” about going.

The following information might help. This is a list of confirmed persecution incidents listed at Leadhills/Abington between 2003-2011. This information has been sourced from the RSPB’s own annual persecution reports, in addition to Scottish Government data. The list does not include other ‘unconfirmed’ or ‘probable’ incidents, such as the discovery of skeletal raptor bodies found buried in forestry or dead raptors found shoved inside rabbit holes. Data are only available up to 2011, so any incidents that might have occured in 2012 or the first quarter of 2013 are not included. There are 41 confirmed incidents on this list; of these, only a couple have been successfully prosecuted (see here for a good example of why prosecutions fail). The list is a good example of why conviction rates should not be used to indicate the extent of criminal activity.

2003 April: hen harrier shot

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed

2004 May: buzzard shot

2004 May: short-eared owl shot

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran)

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran)

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran)

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran)

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as 'Nr Leadhills']

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as 'Nr Leadhills']

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as 'Nr Leadhills']

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran)

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran)

2010 October: short-eared owl shot

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap

2011 December: buzzard shot

15
Mar
13

Prison officer Liddell pleads guilty to egg trading

Keith LiddellAt long last the case against Inverness prison officer Keith Liddell has finished. Today he pleaded guilty to the majority of the charges against him connected to the possession and trading of wild birds’ eggs. He is due to be sentenced on 9 April.

This case has dragged on and on and on, no doubt at considerable expense. For previous blog entries about Liddell’s case see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

Article on today’s guilty pleas in Highland News here

RSPB press release on today’s guilty pleas here

Well done to all involved, especially wildlife fiscal Kate Fleming.

24
Oct
12

New motion lodged in Scottish Parliament: “Death of golden eagle”

A new motion was lodged in the Scottish Parliament on Monday 22nd October 2012 concerning the death of the Glen Esk golden eagle:

Motion S4M-04516: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party.

Death of Golden Eagle

That the Parliament condemns what it sees as the recent brutal killing of a golden eagle in Glen Esk, Angus; considers that the golden eagle is one of Scotland’s most iconic species and understands that 11 golden eagles have been illegally killed since 2007; notes also that 2013 will be the Year of Natural Scotland; urges the Police Service of Scotland to ensure that police officers have the training and resources required to tackle wildlife crime effectively; considers that golden eagles more than earn their keep by attracting tourism to rural Scotland, and asks the Scottish Government to assess what further measures it might take to protect what are considered these magnificent birds.

Here is a desciption of what a Scottish parliamentary motion is.

Here is the full text of this particular motion.

While very welcome (and probably a direct result of all the letters of complaint and media coverage) this motion raises some interesting questions:

It was proposed by 1 MSP (whose constituency includes Brechin) and was supported by 26 others. There are 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Where’s the support of the other 122? Did your MSP support it? If not, why not?

Note the phrase, “….what it sees as the recent brutal killing of a golden eagle in Glen Esk, Angus” and then compare it with the official line given by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP:

The reports may suggest that the circumstances of this incident were suggestive of an offence however there is no hard evidence and it remains possible that there is an alternative explanation“.

It seems Nigel Don MSP and the 26 MSPs who supported his motion do not share the Environment Minister’s view on what happened to that eagle. Apparently nor do the police (see here). We would encourage you to write again to Mr Wheelhouse and ask him to provide the evidence that leads him to suggest that this eagle’s death was not the result of criminal activity. Email: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk. It’s important that this issue is clarified; any doubt that this eagle did not die as a direct result of criminal activity will be used by the Dark Side to support their continual denial about the extent of illegal raptor persecution.

Another interesting question concerns the number of known illegal deaths of golden eagles. The motion says 11 golden eagles have been illegally killed since 2007. Our figures suggest that ten have been discovered (see here):

Peebles (2007); Glen Orchy (2009); Alma (2009); Skibo 1 (2010); Skibo 2 (2010); Skibo 3 (2010); Farr (2010); Glenbuchat (2011); Lochaber (2012); Glen Esk (2012).

 So where’s the information about the 11th one? And why limit the figure to golden eagles? What about white-tailed eagles? If they’re included during this time frame, then the number of eagles known to have been illegally killed is at least 14:

GlenQuoich (2007); Glenogil (2009); Farr (2010); Skye (2011).

If the time frame was increased one year further, to 2006, then at least 16 eagles are known to have been illegally killed:

Dinnet & Kinord (2006); Glen Feshie (2006).

And then there’s all the known ‘missing’  eagles, which brings the total to at least 25:

WTE radio-tagged Bird ‘N’ disappeared in Angus Glens (2007); WTE carcass removed in suspicious circumstances from Lochindorb (2010); 4 x golden eagle leg rings found in gamekeeper’s possession on Moy Estate (2010); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ in Monadhliaths (2011); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ in eastern glens (2012); sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappeared’ NE of Cairngorms (2012).

And then the most recent one, the shot golden eagle found on the border of Buccleuch Estate (2012) – that brings the total to 26.

And we haven’t included any other of the known persecuted raptor species in this list!

So, well done Nigel Don MSP for highlighting a significant and on-going problem – we look forward to seeing a response from the Scottish Government.

11
Sep
12

Glen Orchy: a hollow victory

Last Friday, Tom McKellar, an employee of Auch Estate, an Argyll sporting estate in Bridge of Orchy, was convicted of possessing the illegal poison Carbofuran and was fined £1,200 (see here). This conviction should be a cause for celebration, and in some respects it is, but there is also an overwhelming sense of disappointment and frustration. We had all thought this was a pretty clear-cut case, with lots of investigative resources thrown at it, a strong evidential trail and a known suspect. We were further encouraged by a statement given by the then Scottish Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who said:

I am truly appalled that yet another golden eagle has been illegally killed in Scotland – the second this summer. Illegal poisoning is simply inexcusable and while the perpetrators are certainly beneath contempt they are in no way above the law“.

Given the nature of the alleged offences (wildlife & firearms), we were certain that a custodial sentence was inevitable. How stupid were we?

It all started to unravel in December 2010, 18 months after the poisoned eagle was found dead in Glen Orchy. We learned that Tom McKellar had been convicted of possessing two illegal handguns, but instead of receiving the mandatory five-year prison sentence, he was given just 300 hours community service and a commendation from the judge who reportedly told him: “There is no doubt you are an outstanding individual” (see here). There was little mention in the media about the poisoned golden eagle or the stash of illegal poison that had been found at McKellar’s house during the original police search. We were suspicious that the wildlife crimes were being ignored and that COPFS had decided to just take on the firearms offences because, in the eyes of the law, these are greater crimes than the poisoning offences and would normally result in a custodial sentence.

Based on these suspicions, we blogged about the case in January 2011, and suggested that no charges were being brought against anyone for poisoning that eagle. We also encouraged readers to contact the Scottish Government to complain. Many did, and all hell let loose. The Scottish Government responded by saying that the firearms offences were being dealt with separately, at a court with a higher authority than a Sheriff Court, and that the wildlife offences were still ‘being dealt with’. A well-known prosecutor threatened us, indirectly, with legal action. For what? Expressing an opinion? As it turns out, we were right all along, nobody has been prosecuted for poisoning that golden eagle, although we’ve had to wait for over three years to have this confirmed.

It then all went quiet for a while, at least publicly. It’s not known whether COPFS bowed to pressure to take forward the wildlife crime prosecution or whether they had actually been pursuing the charge all along, but that it took over three years for the case to conclude is probably quite telling.  Not that it really matters now anyway; what matters is the outcome.

So, a conviction was eventually secured, although this was just for ‘possession’ of a banned substance; in our opinion this is the least significant charge of any that could have been brought. McKellar admitted during interviews that he had laid out poisoned baits ‘in the past’, and yet he wasn’t charged for that. Were the words ‘in the past’ significant in the decision not to press charges for that offence? What does ‘in the past’ mean, anyway? Two years ago? Two weeks ago? Two days ago? Two hours ago? In addition to the poisoned golden eagle, a Carbofuran-poisoned fox was found and also a dead sheep laced with Carbofuran. Someone was clearly still putting out poisoned baits, but COPFS accepted McKellar’s claim that he wasn’t responsible. It’s unfortunate that these types of offences are only dealt with as summary cases in a Sheriff Court. It would have been interesting to hear what a jury might have thought had the charges been heard in a higher court. Again, we’ll never know and we have to accept that McKellar is guilty of nothing more than possessing the banned poison Carbofuran (oh, and possessing two illegal handguns).

It’s hard not to think that McKellar has come out of all this relatively lightly. It’s also hard to believe that his punishments will act as any sort of deterrent to other would-be criminals. He avoided a mandatory five-year prison term for the firearms offences, and he was fined just a fraction of the amount that he could have been fined for possessing the illegal poison Carbofuran. It appears that he has also kept his job. Auch Estate is currently up for sale (for a mere £8.4 million) and a look at the sales particulars (Auch Estate sales brochure 2012), dated August 2012, indicates that the new owner has to take on the current Estate employees under the TUPE regulations, including Farm Manager Tom McKellar. These sales particulars also show that almost £700,000 was paid in grants and subsidies during 2011; it would be interesting to know whether there will be any forfeiture of these payments following McKellar’s conviction, although based on previous experience, this information is exceptionally difficult to access, even though it’s public money! It would also be interesting to hear whether McKellar’s employer is being investigated, after McKellar reportedly claimed it was his employer who had provided him with the Carbofuran (see here). Wouldn’t it also be interesting to find out whether Auch Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates? And whether McKellar, as an employee of a sporting estate, is a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association? Needless to say, neither of these organisations has made any public statements about McKellar’s conviction last Friday.

Other question marks include a strange bit of (non)-reporting by SASA. The poisoned golden eagle found at Glen Orchy was listed in SASA’s 2009 annual report. However, the dead fox found nearby that was reported to have been poisoned by Carbofuran did not appear in the SASA report. Neither did the dead sheep also found nearby that was reportedly laced with Carbofuran and used as poisoned bait. Why weren’t these two animals included in SASA’s list of confirmed poison cases for 2009? Perhaps SASA didn’t do the toxicology tests. If they didn’t, then who did? If SASA did do the tests, but failed to include the animals in their report, what confidence does this give us when SASA release their annual poisoning statistics? Are other cases missing? We only knew about the fox and the sheep because the RSPB had listed them in their annual report.

A further question mark hangs over a related issue. The media has reported that the poisoned golden eagle found dead in Glen Orchy had been killed with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. However, if you look at the 2009 SASA report, the following chemicals are listed as being detected in this bird’s body: Carbofuran, Methiocarb, Sodium Cyanide and Strychnine. Now, we have it on good authority, although this has not been formally verified, that a second individual was searched during the police raid back in June 2009. This individual, XXXXX XXXXX is believed to be a gamekeeper in Perthshire but is not an employee of Auch Estate; he was just there on the day the police arrived to conduct their search. We understand that the police found Mr XXXXX to be in possession of a bottle of Strychnine and a container of decanted Cyanide. Now look again at the chemicals detected in the body of the dead golden eagle. As far as we are aware, no charges have been brought against Mr XXXXX, not even for possession. If this turns out to be an accurate report, then something has gone seriously wrong with this investigation. A lack of resources can’t be blamed on this one, given the array of organisations involved with the investigation, including multiple police forces with specialist wildlife crime officers as well as the National Wildlife Crime Unit. So what happened? Did Mr XXXXX slip through the net and if so, how? Do you think we’ll hear anything about this or do you think it’ll be quietly pushed under the carpet?

In summary then, yes, a conviction was secured (McKellar) and we should be pleased about that. McKellar’s illegal stash of Carbofuran and his illegal cache of handguns have been taken out of circulation and so we should also be pleased about that, too. But this is not what could be called a successful outcome; far from it. It’s deeply unsatisfactory and shares striking similarities with other recent, high-profile cases which also concluded unsatisfactorily, such as Moy Estate and Skibo Estate. In all three cases, and in countless other lower-profile cases, sporting estate employees have only been charged with the lesser offence of possession. Charges have not been brought against anyone for the illegally-killed raptors found in each location, nor for laying the illegal poisoned baits or for putting out the illegal traps. On a superficial level then, the convictions for possession look good and the authorities can claim they are successfully addressing the issue of wildlife crime. Scratch below the publicity gloss though and you find that very little progress has been made; charges, if they’re brought at all, are not reflecting the full extent of the crimes uncovered, and on conviction the sentences are not reflecting the seriousness of these crimes.

07
Sep
12

Glen Orchy case concludes: call this justice?

So, three years and three months later, the infamous Glen Orchy case has concluded. Tom McKellar, previously described as a gamekeeper but curiously now described as a farmer, has been fined £1,200 for possessing the banned pesticide, Carbofuran.

The Crown Office press release (here) doesn’t mention anything of the poisoned golden eagle that was found in Glen Orchy and prompted the search of McKellar’s house, which led to the discovery of the Carbofuran. Although it does mention how he was previously given a 300-hour community service order for the possession of illegal handguns (instead of the mandatory five-year prison sentence), also found during the search of his house.

Of course, McKellar wasn’t charged with laying poisoned baits (even though he reportedly admitted to doing so during an interview), and nor was he charged with poisoning that golden eagle, because even though he had this rare, banned poison in his house, and lived just down the road from where the dead eagle had been found, and he’d previously admitted to laying out poisoned baits, there apparently wasn’t enough evidence to link him to the poisoned eagle.

But this story doesn’t end there. There are other things that went on (or more to the point, didn’t go on) in this investigation and we’ll be discussing those in due course, including the failure to charge a second person….

Meanwhile, we’ll add this poisoned golden eagle to the growing list of illegally-killed eagles for which nobody has ever been (nor will be) prosecuted. Justice?

RSPB press statement here

Previous blogs on this case here, here, here, here, here,here here, here

30
Jul
12

Glen Orchy farce continues

The Glen Orchy case against Tom McKellar continued at Oban Sheriff Court last Friday (27 July) with yet more legal argument.

You won’t be surprised to learn that sentencing has once again been deferred. Next court date is in early September.

27
Jul
12

Glen Orchy gamekeeper tries to change his plea

Here’s some insight into what is causing the delay in the sentencing of Tom McKellar in the Glen Orchy poison case. From yesterday’s Press & Journal:

An Argyll farmer is attempting to take back his plea of guilty to having a deadly poison which has been banned after being linked to the killing of birds of prey.

Tom McKellar, 50, of Fir Park Cottage, Auch Estate, Bridge of Orchy, originally pleaded guilty at Oban Sheriff Court to possessing the pesticide Carbofuran, a pesticide outlawed for more than 10 years, at his home in June 2009.

At a hearing in May his defence solicitor David McKie, in his plea in mitigation, said that his client did not realise the poison was Carbofuran.

Sheriff Douglas Small then queried if McKellar should be pleading guilty, and he continued the case for legal debate until yesterday [Wednesday 25 July 2012].

But when the case called yesterday McKellar had new legal representation in the form of solicitor Cameron Tait who sought permission from Sheriff Small to withdraw the guilty plea and replace it with a not guilty one.

This motion was “strenuously opposed” by fiscal Kate Fleming and a day-long legal debate took place.

Mr Tait said: “He advised police that he thought the poison was Wetex. He said he didn’t know what Carbofuran was. He had been supplied with it by the estate”.

Miss Fleming argued that this was not a defence. She said there was an absence of language such as “knowingly” possessing Carbofuran in the charge.

Sheriff Small adjourned the case until tomorrow [today, Friday 27 July 2012] to hear more legal arguments from the Crown and the defence.

It emerged at previous court hearings that police were investigating the death of a golden eagle in Glen Orchy in June 2009 when they obtained a search warrant for McKellar’s house. They found granules of Carbofuran in a game bag in his porch. Police also found the carcases of a sheep and a fox laced with Carbofuran.

Miss Fleming previously told the court that since 1988, there have been 240 fatal poisonings of wildlife by Carbofuran, mostly birds of prey.

The case resumes today. If the Sheriff accepts McKellar’s not guilty plea then presumably this case could go to trial at a later date.

For background information on this case, click on the ‘Glen Orchy’ tag at the top of this post.

Thank you to the contributor who sent us the Press & Journal clipping.

25
Jul
12

Glen Orchy sentencing update #2

Another delay….adjourned, again. Next hearing will be Friday (27 July).

Tick tock.




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 628 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 820,545 hits

our recent blog visitors