Why convicted gamekeeper Robert Christie only got a telling off

Two days ago we blogged about Scottish gamekeeper Robert Christie (Lindertis Estate) who was convicted at Forfar Sheriff Court after pleading guilty to wildlife crimes (see here).

Since then there has been a fair bit of press coverage but the media hasn’t really picked up on the fact that Christie’s ‘punishment’ was just an admonishment (effectively a telling off), even though the available penalties included a fine of up to £5,000 and/or a six month prison sentence.

However, an article published in yesterday’s Courier did include commentary about the penalty:

“…Sheriff Kevin Veal at Forfar decided not to impose a penalty on gamekeeper Robert Christie after hearing the ‘immediate and draconian consequences’ connected with breaching a trapping licence could render the 57-year-old unemployable for the rest of his working life”.

Christie’s solicitor, David McKie (who also happens to be the SGA’s solicitor – see here), reportedly commented:

There are implications under the general licence – if the court imposes anything more than an admonition the licence is automatically withdrawn for five years“.

Was what Christie did the crime of the century? No of course it wasn’t, but what it was, without a doubt, was a criminal offence under the wildlife legislation. It seems astonishing that the Sheriff would decide not to impose any penalty, especially given the current high priority that the Scottish Government has placed on tackling wildlife crime.

What we are seeing yet again is an inconsistency in sentencing (compare Christie’s penalty with that of Aswanley Estate gamekeeper Craig Barrie who was recently fined £520 for illegal use of a trap, see here) and the sense that wildlife crime is still not being taken seriously by some Scottish courts. Do you think this defence would be acceptable for other offences, such as a drink driving taxi driver? ‘Oh, sorry m’Lord, yes I was drunk when I drove my car and I really should have known the consequences of doing this as driving is my profession but the immediate and draconian measure of losing my licence will also mean I lose my job’.

Talking of taking wildlife crime seriously, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has not yet issued any public statement of condemnation for Christie’s actions, nor have they said whether he is/was an SGA member. To find out about Christie’s SGA membership status, send an email to: info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk

Article in the Courier here


13 Responses to “Why convicted gamekeeper Robert Christie only got a telling off”

  1. 1 Phil Grieves
    April 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Well, ok, nobody wants to see anyone kicked out of their job (and possibly their tied cottage) and become a further burden on the state – but if anything other than an admonishment automatically means the imposition of a 5 year loss of licence (if one was held in the first place – which is not clear) then on conviction surely a community service order could be imposed without the necessity for the ban for this sort of inadvertancy and others of a similar ilk.
    As mentioned this was hardly the crime of the decade – on the other hand the disregard in not attending the trap and the fact that this time it was only an owl (only an owl – I can’t believe I wrote that) possibly means that other species have be trapped in the past – who knows?
    Bye the bye the landowner’s ancestor didn’t light the Kings pipe with a portable tinderbox – he appears to have been enobled for being a sort of perpetual civil servant – laudable (no pun intended) no doubt in a sort of damned with faint praise way………………………..Oh dear.


  2. April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    ” .. breaching a trapping licence could render the 57-year-old unemployable for the rest of his working life”.”

    Boo Hoo! … but just remember that, if an Owl were to die in one of his traps, through his lack of due care & attention, then surely that’d be a pretty good indication that he wasn’t actually fit to hold down that job in the first place & let’s remember too, of course, that the poor Owl would be ….. DEAD for the rest of its life!

  3. 3 Dougie
    April 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Following the sentencing principle used in this case would render many criminals free from adequate punishment.

    Does a drunk driver escape a ban when he drives for a living – no.

    Watering down sentences amounts to not treating crime as seriously as it should be.

  4. 4 bimbling
    April 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    A wildlife crime conviction renders the convict unable to use the GENERAL licence, which the law requires them to READ AND UNDERSTAND. In the absence of the ability to use the General Licence, a keeper must apply to SNH for a licence to carry out those operations previously covered. Such licence applications are considered on their merits. I think this is a ‘keep an eye on you’ kind of approach and would not automatically render the convict unemployable, although perhaps it should.

  5. April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    So…by this reasoning the only people who can be convicted of such an offence are those who dont kill corvids for a living…Im sure when parliament debated and passed this piece of legislation full time “vermin controllers” were exactly the section of society they were trying to influence.

    Remember…the record shows that very very few keepers have ever been sacked in Scotland even after conviction on much more serious wildlife offences than this.

    Lastly…Im confused here..didnt your last post [on this case] say that an admonishment meant having a criminal record…but an admonishment isnt a conviction re the licence conditions?..Can someone clear that up?

    • April 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      Re: admonishment. As we understand it, an admonition (i.e. a warning) is the minimum actual sentence that can follow a conviction. However, under the terms of the Scottish Government general licence:

      “No person convicted on or after 1 January 2008 of an offence to which this paragraph applies may use this licence unless, in respect of that offence, either (1) they were dismissed with an admonition, or (2) they are a rehabilitated person for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and their conviction is treated as spent.” See http://www.snh.gov.uk/docs/B981329.pdf

      So in other words, if after your conviction you are issued with an admonition as your penalty, you are still eligible to use the General Licence for trapping wild birds. If you receive any other penalty (e.g. a fine), you are prevented from using the General Licence (unless you apply for special permission, as Bimbling pointed out above).

      • April 6, 2012 at 10:28 am

        Thanks…very informative as always!

        Thats a huge get out clause….which will get used in every single case involving general licences from now on..not exactly a “draconian law” then??

        Most people would expect to lose their job and be deemed unemployable [in that area of work] after a conviction regarding an area of special trust [in this case dealing responsibly and humanely with wildlife]and the removal of a licence [think Driving Licence] would be a supplementary matter…but not within the shooting community it seems, as this man expects to carry on using his “licence to kill” despite his criminal conviction.

        • April 6, 2012 at 11:25 am

          Indeed. Which perhaps explains why Craig Barrie, the gamekeeper at Aswanley Estate, recently appealed his fine (he wanted an admonishment instead – it’s now clear why!). Amazingly the appeal judges refused and his fine stands.

      • April 12, 2012 at 10:48 pm

        As far as I can see, this exemption for persons convicted but merely admonished was only added to the General Licences in 2009. Up to 2008, the condition read:”No person convicted, on or after 1 January 2008, (where their offence remains current on their record according to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) of an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended, the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 as amended, the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 as amended, the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006,
        or the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912 as amended, may use this licence”.
        Does anyone remember the change being made and whether there was a consultation about it?
        English licences don’t contain this exemption.
        I guess it would be worth raising this with SNH before the licences for 2013 are drafted.

        • April 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

          That’s really interesting, Libby, thanks.

          As we understand it, it was only in 2008 that the Scottish Government introduced the condition preventing anyone convicted of an offence under the wildlife protection or animal welfare legislation from using the general licence. Prior to 2008, this condition apparently didn’t exist?

          We don’t recall any consultation about adding this new clause which you think was added in 2009 (i.e. if you have received an admonishment you are still allowed to use the general licence even though you have a criminal conviction) but would be very pleased to hear from others who might remember.

          Yes, definitely worth raising with SNH…

  6. June 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Just to let you know I wrote to SNH about this change to the general licence. It has now been confirmed that these changes were made by Scottish Government, before SNH took over this area of licensing. Apparently it was thought by the SG that it would be disproportionate to impose a punishment (of not allowing a convicted person to use the general licence) which could affect his livelihood, when the court had decided not to punish him.

    A fair point, I would say, but is removal of the licence an additional punishment or simply the withdrawal of a privilege? And don’t privileges have to be earned?

    However, SNH has also said that the conditions on the licences can be reviewed and this could be included with any response to the consultation later this year.

    So I guess we should look out for that consultation.

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