It’s been a long time coming. A very long time. Over three years. But today is the day Tom McKellar is sentenced for possession of Carbofuran, found at his house in June 2009 during a police investigation into the poisoning of a golden eagle (see here, here, here and here).
McKellar wasn’t charged in relation to the dead eagle, just for possession of a banned pesticide, to which he pleaded guilty. There’s a lot more to this case than has previously been reported, and once sentencing has finished we’ll have a few things to say.
So what do you think his punishment will be? Six hours on the naughty step?
The lengthy legal proceedings against Inverness man Keith Liddell (see here for background), who is accused on various counts including trading in wild-bird eggs, has continued at Inverness Sheriff Court today.
Liddell, who has denied all the charges against him, will now stand trial on 22 October 2012, with an intermediate diet on 25 September 2012.
According to an earlier STV report, the list of raptor species whose eggs he is alleged to have handled includes merlin, lesser kestrel, snowy owl, griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, red kite, tawny owl, rough-legged buzzard, black kite and booted eagle. The report states that Liddell was alleged to have been found with 136 wild birds’ eggs at his Inverness home on Holm Dell Drive on June 24 2009 (see here).
The long-running case against Keith Liddell, first reported on this blog in July 2011 (see here) has been continued at Inverness Sheriff Court, again.
Liddell is alleged to have bought or offered for sale 202 eggs, including those of Egyptian vultures (a listed endangered species) and tawny owls. He is further accused of having 136 wild birds’ eggs in his possession. These charges, which Liddell has denied, relate to alleged offences between 2004 – 2009. The case has dragged on and on and on with numerous hearings in November and December 2011, and in February and May 2012. The next hearing will be in June 2012.
More and more news reports are emerging following the conviction yesterday of Tom McKellar of Auch Estate for possession of Carbofuran.
Some of these reports have mentioned the poisoned golden eagle that led to the discovery of the illegal stash of banned poison at McKellar’s house, and some of them haven’t. One recent report, published today in the Daily Record (here) does mention the golden eagle. It also includes a comment from McKellar’s defence lawyer, David McKie (sound familiar??) who is reported to have said that McKellar was pleading guilty to possessing the poison but not to killing an eagle.
It is looking more and more likely that McKellar was not charged with poisoning this eagle, which perhaps explains why the COPFS press release yesterday (here) didn’t even hint at the presence of a Carbofuran-poisoned eagle found in the locality. Does anyone else find this omission strange, especially when the press release contained quotes said to be from specialist wildlife crime prosecutor, Kate Fleming:
“The possession of Carbofuran is illegal. It’s use as a poison can lead to the indiscriminate poisoning of wildlife…”
Er, poisoned golden eagle found nearby, poisoned by Carbofuran. Illegal stash of Carbofuran found at McKellar’s place, some of it reportedly found inside a gamebag in his home porch (RSPB news here), and an admission (according to the BBC – here) that he’d laid out poisoned baits. No connection and not worth commenting on then, Kate? We’ll be writing more on the role of COPFS in this case a bit later on.
Also included in the Daily Record article was the following sentence:
‘Mr McKie handed a sheaf of glowing testimonials on his client’s character to Sheriff Douglas Small, who conceded they were “brilliant”‘.
However, he also said the offence [of possession] was “a serious matter” and he had to consider all options before sentencing.
Tom McKellar, previously reported as being a gamekeeper (see link below for his earlier conviction for possession of illegal guns) but currently reported as being a farmer, has today pleaded guilty at Oban Sheriff Court to being in possession of the illegal pesticide Carbofuran.
This poison stash was discovered during a multi-agency raid on McKellar’s house in June 2009, where investigators found three separate containers of Carbofuran as well as traces of it in a syringe.
McKellar reportedly admitted during a police interview that he had, “in the past”, placed the poison out on laced meat to kill foxes.
Sentencing was deferred until 29 May 2012 for background reports.
McKellar had previously been charged for the illegal possession of two handguns, kept in his attic, that came to the attention of the police during the raid. On conviction, instead of receiving the mandatory five year jail sentence, he was given just 300 hours of community service (see here).
What has not been mentioned in the press (so far), is that McKellar’s house was raided after the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle, reportedly found with the body of a fox and a sheep carcass at Glen Orchy in June 2009 (see here and here). Toxicology tests reportedly detected Carbofuran on all three animals, although interestingly, only the golden eagle results appear in the official SASA results table; the sheep and the fox results are only mentioned in the RSPB’s 2009 report.
Does today’s reporting mean that McKellar, or anyone else, has not been charged with poisoning the golden eagle?
Rest assured, this is not the last we will be writing about this case…
David Alexander Whitefield, the former gamekeeper at Culter Allers Estate in South Lanarkshire, was today sentenced following his December 2011 conviction for illegally poisoning four buzzards (see here for conviction report).
Before we discuss his latest sentence, let’s remind ourselves of Whitefield’s criminal record: This keeper, who was also a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, was convicted in October 2008 for offences relating to the unlawful capture and subsequent welfare of a buzzard. His sentence for that conviction was a £300 fine. He kept his job as the sole gamekeeper and he was not expelled from the SGA. Just six months later, in April 2009, RSPB investigators were alerted to the signs of an illegal poisoning spree on this estate. Obviously, these subsequent poisoning activities, for which Whitefield has now been convicted, demonstrate that the £300 fine had zero effect as a deterrent (no great surprise really).
So then you might expect today’s sentence to reflect not only the seriousness of the crime of poisoning wildlife (and potentially any human and/or domestic animals that happened to wander through the well-used public walking trails on this estate), but also to acknowledge that Whitefield, already previously convicted for wildlife crime there, had shown a complete disregard for wildlife legislation.
You might reasonably expect that the sheriff in this case, Nicola Stewart, might utilise her full sentencing powers and go for the most serious sentence available for this type of crime, which includes a custodial sentence and/or a financial penalty for each poisoned bird. That would see Whitefield put away for a while and would send out a very clear message that this type of crime will no longer be tolerated in this country, just as the Scottish Government has claimed over and over again in recent years.
So why then, was Whitefield handed down a 100 hour community service order as his ‘punishment’?
According to an RSPB press release, Sheriff Stewart is reported to have said the punishment was a direct alternative to a custodial sentence and that poisoning is a serious offence. Why was he given a direct alternative to a custodial sentence and where, in his 100 hour community service order, is there any indication that illegal poisoning is considered a serious offence?
This is a joke sentence, to add to all the other joke sentences that have been handed out to the few criminals that are actually prosecuted for these crimes. As we keep seeing, over and over again, these punishments are not providing the required deterrent so surely it’s now time to introduce mandatory sentences for these offences, and that includes custodial sentences. These are already available to the judiciary – so far, for whatever reason, not one custodial sentence has been given to a convicted raptor poisoner. We need to be asking why that is, and we need to keep asking.
Well done to the SSPCA for some serious doggedness with this case – it’s been a long time in the works and looked at one point to be in danger of failing on a legal technicality. Perseverance paid off, and despite the pathetic sentence, those involved with the groundwork deserve much credit.
There’ll be some red faces at the SGA today. After all the proclamations of Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who is on record as saying, “Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” (see here), it turns out that the gamekeeper David Alexander Whitefield, who today was convicted of poisoning four buzzards (see here), is a member of the SGA!!
The SGA has issued a statement after today’s conviction, that says Whitefield’s membership will be suspended with immediate effect (see here). This is welcome, if belated, news. But why wasn’t his membership terminated after his earlier conviction for wildlife offences in 2008? Or is membership only terminated after a conviction for poisoning, as opposed to other types of wildlife crime?
A previously convicted gamekeeper has today admitted to poisoning four buzzards with Alpha-chloralose laced baits. At Lanark Sheriff Court, David Alexander Whitefield (45) of Coulter, near Biggar in Lanarkshire, pled guilty to the offences that took place between March and November 2009 at Culter Allers Farm, near Biggar, where Whitefield was employed as the sole gamekeeper for pheasant and partridge shooting. He has reportedly blamed his employer (the landowner), whom Whitefield claims told him to reduce the number of buzzards.
In addition to the four poisoned buzzards found on the shooting estate, a large quantity of Alpha-chloralose was found inside unlocked outbuildings, some of it inside a coffee jar – this extremely hazardous poison could have easily been mistaken for sugar or powdered milk by an unsuspecting visitor. Culter Allers is a popular area for walkers and it is fortunate indeed that no person or pet was poisoned. The buzzards were not so lucky.
This case has been in the works for some time, first reported a year ago and then delayed for legal technicalities (see here, here and here). Sentencing for his latest conviction has been deferred for background reports and will take place in early January. We will watch with great interest.
Whitefield’s previous convictions include failing to ensure the welfare of a buzzard and possession of a buzzard. These offences took place at Culter Allers and he was convicted at Lanark Sheriff Court in September 2008. He received a pathetic £300 fine (see here). Just six months later he was poisoning buzzards. At the time of the first conviction (Sept 2008), he was reported to be a self-confessed member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. It is not known if he was a member of the SGA at the time of the buzzard poisoning incidents (March-Nov 2009) or whether he is still a member – you can find out by emailing email@example.com
Congratulations to the SSPCA for leading this case and for securing a conviction. Let’s hope the Scottish parliament takes heed next year when they’re consulting on extending the powers of the SSPCA for the investigation of wildlife crime.
STV news story about Whitefield’s latest conviction here