Crap sentence for Liddell: and what of his co-accused?

Keith Liddell (by Alasdair Allen)So, finally, three and a half years on, Inverness prison officer Keith Liddell was sentenced today for possession and trading of wild birds’ eggs.

This is the guy who was caught with 2,307 eggs, including those of a number of threatened and protected species. This is the guy who denied his guilt for three and a half years, resulting in costly legal proceedings against him (paid for by our goodselves, the taxpayers). This is the guy who only pleaded guilty to 13 charges last month, several days into his trial (see here).

This is the guy who today received just a 220-hour community service order for his crimes.

There’s been plenty of media coverage about this story today – RSPB press release (here), BBC news (here) etc etc but perhaps the most amusing is STV News, showing a video of Liddell running away from court trying to hide his face (here).

We’re all probably immune to the shock of these crap sentences now. No deterrent value whatsoever and a strong indication that the judiciary still doesn’t understand the serious and wider implications of wildlife crime. It’s the investigators and prosecutors who should have our sympathy – three and a half years of painstaking work to get this criminal convicted and he walks out of court pretty much a free man except for the few hours he’ll spend drinking tea and having a laugh or whatever it is they have to do on community service. 

But Liddell’s pointless sentence isn’t the end of this sorry story. Liddell was one of three UK individuals who were charged with suspicion of trading in wild birds’ eggs, following the examination of thousands of emails that linked them with a network of alleged international traders. The second man, Andrew Seed from County Durham, was convicted of 17 charges relating to illegal smuggling and trade in birds’ eggs, in May 2010. Investigators had found more than 2,000 eggs at his house, including osprey eggs that were believed to have been stolen from a Scottish nest. His punishment was a 9 month jail sentence, suspended for two years (so effectively able to walk out of court a free man). Although his eggs were subject to a confiscation order and he was hit with costs totalling £3,607.03 (see here and here).

And what of the third man? We heard a bit about him during an earlier hearing in the Liddell case – a mansion in West Lothian was raided in 2009 where police reportedly found over 12,000 eggs (see here). According to a BBC article published shortly after the raid, police seized more than 5,000 eggs as well as egg-collecting paraphenalia. The police charged a 57-year old man with alleged wildlife crime offences and reported him to the Procurator Fiscal (see here). We understand that the Crown Office decided not to proceed with the charges against this individual. Why? Who knows, and the chances of us ever being told? Nil.

UPDATE (10 April 2013): Guy Shorrock has posted an interesting insight into this case on the RSPB’s Investigations blog here.

18 Responses to “Crap sentence for Liddell: and what of his co-accused?”

  1. 1 Mr Greer Hart senior
    April 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    For the past 40 plus years, I have been a member, fund-raiser, volunteer or donor to every conservation of wildllife organisation, operating here in the UK or operating abroad. I have contributed considerably to save habitats, forests, tribal peoples, individual species on endangered lists, and also to help buy land on which all forms of life are to be protected. I have gone round the tenements of Glasgow and stood in its streets, collecting money and distibuting leaflets or getting petitions signed. Many others have done the same, and still do in dedicated and determined numbers.

    What has disappointed me and broken my heart, is that much of this great effort has produced much less than expected results. All over the planet, nearly every creature, tribal group, plant and tree is under severe threat. I have adopted Orang Utans, rhinos, Siberian tigers and leopards, gibbons, gorillas, chimpanzees and donated to buy locations for rare birds, plants and butterflies. Direct debits have reduced my income considerably over those years, and now my pension is spread thin. Human charities similarly got my attention to alleviate hunger and suffering.

    What is causing this destruction of the natural world? It is that the human race is demanding more and more from the environment with its expanding population and need for increased energy and minerals. So, the planet is being ransacked by unchecked and cynical powerful companies, that pollute, chop down forests and replace with monocultures. Those in doing this and creating great wealth control governments from behind-the-scenes. Here in Scotland, we witness our contribution to the Great Extinction of Life, with our landscape controlled by shooting estates, and how they have reduced our birds of prey numbers to almost extinction point, and even impact on the fabulous attempts to restore certain species. The police, fiscal service, zombie politicians and certain administrators of our laws, all seemed highly biased towards the perpetrators of wildlife crime. We are witnessing industrialised shooting of game birds, and to maximise their returns, estate managers and their “enforcers” destroy hen harriers, eagles, kites etc. The UK was in the forefront of many great humane causes like anti-slavery, the emancipation of women, child protection, equality and diversity, and gave birth to animal welfare and wildlife conservation societies of high reputation. However, all these groups except for the RSPB, Badger protection groups, Scotland for Animals and a huddle of individuals, have frozen themselves in some kind of meek and mild opposition, snuggly believing that our politicians will do much about putting teeth into enforcing wildlife protection laws. The egg collector, buzzard and golden eagle incidents reflect that supineness. What is stopping all the conservation groups from mounting a massive campaign to educate the public, and obtain a mandate to force the Scottish Government into action, by a national petition dedicated to saving our birds of prey and changing the law on whom should be able to own land. Why should this minority of well-connected estate owners still be allowed such free rein; they are a repugnant anachronism that no mature society should longer tolerate. The countryside should not be forbidden zone. If we can fight to save creatures from extinction in other countries and sometimes succeed, how come we are having a hard time here saving our iconic birds of prey?

  2. April 10, 2013 at 6:44 am

    First of all may I acknowledge the passion and conviction coming through in Mr Greer Hart’s contribution which I believe expresses the views of many of us so succinctly.

    For once I’m going to avoid comments re Estate Owners and birds of prey and refer to the Scottish Establishment!! What use is there in successive Environment Ministers working to get new legislation through, which can then apply country wide, if the real power, as far as wildlife crimes are concerned, is exercised so inconsistently and seemingly so undermined by the judiciary and accompanying system. Do we honestly think that the offence of Vicarious Liability will ever prove to be a reality given this “climate”? Time and again on this site we read of cases that have dragged on for ages , at immense expense, only to result in a paltry sentence or bizarre interpretation that deflects from the real focus of the crime anyway. For a long time, say 20 years ago, I actually believed there were efforts being made to try and achieve consistency in such matters. Now I believe quite the opposite! Seemingly clear cut cases are dismissed or receive rash sentences. So what is it that’s at play? Is it Scottish Law, or the systems it works to, that is complicated or lacks certain aspects or is it the judiciary who individually or collectively reject the relevance of wildlife crimes without any thought of consistency?. Whilst there would no doubt be outright indignation at such a suggestion by those in office, the fact remains that the IMPRESSION on the outside appears so clear cut. Or is that there’s an almost deliberate dilution of such relevance when it refers to crimes committed on land other wise associated with the Establishment ?. From the outside it is easy to be critical ( and wrong! ), but the impression arising from a series of cases surely points again in a different direction. From time to time criticism arises against the Police too, but I can easily see how there can exist a lack of motivation by some towards such crimes when the outcome involves endless hours of paperwork, court attendances and suchlike which , in the end, results in a wholly disproportionate, modest sentence and not a small amount of public money being expended in the process. Where does the Value for Money principle kick in in all of this?

    Who’s pulling the strings on this one or is it that the administration of the laws, not the legislation itself, is wholly inadequate and open to whim in the sense of the extent of interpretation that can apply? All such may be a nonsense , but the impression gained by many on the outside suggests otherwise.Whatever the true reason the scenario needs putting right as , in the meantime, would be offenders are not put off, and others get away with it, others actually do receive an understandable sentence.

    I’m sure readers can guess, I’ve no legal background (!) but the fact is that many of us have an abiding impression of a lack of commitment to the system, an apparent undercurrent of inconsistency and have lost faith and confidence in the system overall. Surely that’s not right and needs addressing. This might be seen as an ill-informed rant, but I suspect similar conclusions are held by others. In the meantime our wildlife heritage continues to be under siege…………..

    Fairly soon, as far as England and Wales is concerned, DEFRA will receive a report from the Law Commission presenting a review of the wildlife protection regulations currently in place and, one imagines, their efficacy. Perhaps such suggests the Scottish Parliament needs to institute a similar exercise, not just of the regulations but of how they are being enforced, whether any problem areas exist and what should be improved? I’d a feeling something not dis-similar to this had been done at some point , but I can’t trace any reference. Any one help on this one?

    • April 10, 2013 at 8:05 am

      It’s the Natural Justice report, published in 2008 – a review of how wildlife crime is handled in Scotland, instigated by the then Environment Minister Mike Russell after public outrage over the poisoning of the last breeding female golden eagle in the Borders in 2007. It would be interesting to conduct a five-year review of the recommendations made in this report:

      Click to access 0058716.pdf

  3. April 10, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Thanks RPS. your memory is clearly better than mine!! A renewed examination of the Report shows it to contain a lot of facts and reasonable opinion , but it , sadly, never gets down to what we are now considering.

    On page 24 there are two statements of interest.

    ” Matters of sentencing are within the preserve of the judiciary and, as such, were not examined during the inspection”

    “While certain agencies may be disappointed at individual sentences, there did not appear to be any evidence that sentencing for wildlife crimes differed from any other sentencing”.

    A number of points arise from this. I believe “guidance” is made available to the Judiciary related to various crimes and sentencing and I wonder, therefore, if this process needs to be reviewed and any parallel training too. Equally I imagine there must be some form of monitoring process of sentences and one wonders how often this takes place and what the outcome might be. The second of the above statements appears to be at odds with what is currently associated with sentences relating to wildlife crimes ( if not, then it would suggest the whole system is in disarray!! ).

    Equally I believe there is a question of the Value For Money principle in all this that our Parliament ought to be interested in. There appears to be a total disconnection between what various Environment Ministers have set forward as intentions, pledges and so on associated with wildlife crimes, the Scottish natural heritage and what they hope to see reduced or rectified and the end process when successful prosecutions in this subject area reach court. A common interpretation would be that the final part of the process appears to let the side down. Again, should this not be a concern for our elected members and their Parties’ policies?

  4. 6 Orhenna
    April 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

    The key fact that people are touching on is The Justiciary.
    Police officers, RSPB Investigators and other agencies, all work hard to gather evidence and present their case to The Procurator Fiscal, who then prepares for trial.
    When it goes to trail, is when it comes undone, for the simple reason that there is one individual who makes the decisions “The Sheriff.”
    The Sheriffs word is Law.
    The problem is that a large number of our Sheriffs in Scotland are also recreational Shooters, members of Shooting Syndicates, where they are all Old Boys together.
    How can this not be a conflict of interests ?
    The answer is that it IS a conflict of interest.
    I think pressure should be brought to have all sheriffs declare memebrship of shooting syndicates, if they are to be involved in Wildlife Crime Trials.
    Sheriffs are supposed to be beyond reproach, however they are human and they enjoy wealth and influence.
    I know one sheriff who would not sit past 1:30 pm as he went fishing in the afternoons!!
    I jest ye not, this is the “Aye Been “attitude that still prevails in Scotland’s Judiciary.

    Time to take a Long Hard Look at the Sheriffs involved in these cases, start making life uncomfortable for them, use whatever means and media are at your disposal to highlight the inconsistencies.

    [Ed: Interesting comment. We know of one Sheriff who definitely does have connections with the huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ brigade. But would be interested to see the evidence that shows a “large number” do…

    While not disagreeing that there is a considerable problem with inconsistent sentencing, we’d also argue that a significant problem still remains at the beginning of some investigations when the police fail to respond to / investigate initial reports. Not all police and not all investigations, but enough to cause concern to those reporting suspected crimes. There are also problems with the Fiscals, who sometimes make seemingly inexplicable decisions not to prosecute even when the weight of evidence seems strong. Most worryingly is that neither the police or COPFS seem willing to explain these decisions when asked about them].

  5. 7 Orhenna
    April 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    The sad fact is that the Police do not have the resources to deal with everyday crime, let alone specialist Wildlife Crime. With this new Scottish Police Service it has already taken effect on reducing numbers.
    Members of the public can now lo longer expect that when they phone 999 for an emergency that a police officer will attend, the response is ” I am sorry we have no available officers to attend ” Thats a Fact.
    Rural police stations have all been closed, the very places where you need eyes and ears and public trust.
    Wildlife Crime Officers do not have the luxury of just carrying out that role, they still have to deal with everyday policing duties. Most of their Wildlife Crime work is done on their off duty days, sometimes without payment.
    They do it because the genuinely care about wildlife and wildlife crime.
    I am sick of seeing them constantly taking flak, you have absolutely no idea the constraints upon them, as other policing takes priority. They have to constantly argue with supervisors to be allowed to spend time on Wildife Matters. You have ONE wildlife Crime officer to cover a divisional area if you are lucky, they are not on duty 24/7 so you get beat officers responding to calls, who don’t have the same specialist knowledge.

    Never mind the lip service the Police Management pays to wildife crime, they do not back it up and allow Police Wildlife Crime officers to be left alone to do the job without abstraction.
    It’s all about figures, detection rates, so that the Home Office can measure performance.
    By the very nature of Wildife Crime it is sometimes nigh impossible to get detections, hence the reason other crime is concentrated on as its detectable and keeps the figures up.

    As for the Fiscals Service….. it is routine practice for them not to proceed to trial in all criminal matters, to cut deals or proceed on charges that carry bigger penalties and drop other charges in the same case that don’t.
    They are swamped with cases, the ones they can guarantee conviction on they proceed to trial on.
    You have to understand the Bigger Picture here.
    The Police and the Fiscal service are under massive amounts of pressure from the Home Office to produce results.
    Wildife Crime is but a tiny drop in the ocean to them regardless of PR statements made to the contrary.

    • April 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      “The sad fact is that the Police do not have the resources to deal with everyday crime, let alone specialist wildlife crime”.

      Wouldn’t disagree with that, which is why we’re keen for the government to get on with their consultation to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA: Ready-made expertise, proven track record, no effect on police budgets. It’s curious that the Government agreed to set up this consultation in 2010 and yet here we are in 2013 and still no sign of it. Do you think that’s anything to do with the fact that the game-shooting industry doesn’t support the move? You’d think they’d be mad keen to see investigators who can root out the criminals within their industry…..

      • 9 Orhenna
        April 10, 2013 at 1:32 pm

        Honestly, I think it’s more to do with funding across the board , in 2010 no one was facing the monetary crisis we are facing now.
        The SSPCA have been hit really hard too so doubt it’s going to happen anytime soon for that reason.
        It’s such a tangled web :(

        • 10 Orhenna
          April 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm

          Addition to previous post.
          The RSPB and the SSPCA both need the services of the police, they have no power of Arrest or Detention or Search without warrant.
          Dealing with Wildlife Crime is a whole different ball game, as opposed to reporting matters of animal cruelty.
          The standard of corroboration, evidence gathering, and crime reporting is very high.
          This would have training implications for the SSPCA, who do not have the funds available to them through public support that the RSPB do.
          The police will still have a role to play for the reasons I have given.

          • April 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm

            Absolute rubbish. Read this about the SSPCA’s current powers and their proposal to have those powers increased (note also the responses of the other individuals involved during this meeting!) –


            [Start reading from col 3082]

            • 12 Orhenna
              April 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm

              It is not rubbish as it stand they have No Powers of ARREST or DETENTION

              • April 10, 2013 at 3:02 pm

                But they don’t need powers of arrest or detention to get successful convictions! The important factor is that they are a recognised reporting authority so they can investigate and report to the Crown Office. No different to SNH, Customs & Excise, Water Bailiffs etc etc etc etc. SSPCA has being doing it for 180 years, and very successfully if you look at recent cases.

                The increased powers would allow them to retrieve evidence relating to a wider variety of wildlife crime offences, not ‘just’ animal welfare.

                It sounds like you’re closely linked to the police and you feel threatened by the suggestion the SSPCA may get increased powers. Why feel threatened? Why not encourage it and work with them to increase the number of successful prosecutions?

                • 14 Orhenna
                  April 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

                  Nonsense, I am not threatened by SSPCA having more powers or the RSPB for that matter, infact it would be great if they did, however I draw your attention to Sheriff Kevin Drummonds concerns !

                  My husband is a police officer.
                  he comes home increasingly frustrated at the way things work.
                  I am merely pointing out the Bigger Picture,
                  Everything I have said is more or less backed up by Mr Rafferty !!

                  And I repeat YOU whoever you are who writes this blog, does unduly direct flak to to the wrong people.
                  I stand by that, so we will have to agree to disagree.

  6. 16 Dave Dick
    April 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Orhenna – I worked with WCOs/WLOs/etc for more than 25 years…much of what you say is true regarding their superior officers lack of support and at times downright hostility to their work but I dont accept your statement that they [rank and file police] are constantly taking flak. Most of us who post on here from a position of knowledge quite rightly attack the Justice System for its repeated failures, thats not the same at all.
    Having said that, most Forces I worked with chose their officers because of their connection to shooting – ironic isnt it!..which often lead to exactly the conflicts of interest mentioned above..and then there were the real heroes within the police who worked all the hours [including much in their own time] they could, on wildlife cases and faced hostility from their colleagues, their superiors, from certain court officials and last but not least from elected and unelected “important persons” within their community who continually questioned why they did the job at all!
    So let me for one say a big thanks to those police officers, whether “wildlife cops” or not, who put in such dedication – most of them resigned in disgust or despair eventually, however.
    Lastly – I was told from the early 80s on, that the police were too busy to help with wildlife crime..thats not a new cry…nowadays we have far far more public and political support and knowledge on this subject..and yet we cant get resources to deal with it??/..Why?..because of the undue influence of the shooting/landowning and gamekeeping community on the police, the Courts, the Civil Service and some of our politicians. Thtas the real problem and where the real answers lie.

    • 17 Orhenna
      April 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Dave you can’t get the resources to deal with it because there are NO resources, that’s the bottom line. That’s the point I am trying to make.
      The SSPCA are really struggling too with financial cuts

  7. April 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Guy Shorrock has posted an interesting insight into this case on the RSPB’s investigations blog. See update at the foot of our post.

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