Surely the buzzard licence applicant doesn’t have prior convictions for poison offences?

poisonLast week we mentioned that further information had emerged about the licences to control buzzards recently issued by Natural England. We said we were seeking legal advice about what information we could and couldn’t publish. That legal consultation has resulted in a decision to publish the following information.

We discovered the name of the buzzard licence applicant last week. Interestingly, someone with the same name, from the same region, and working in the same industry (gamekeeping) was previously convicted for offences relating to banned poisons. It must be just another one of those freak coincidences that seem to pop up with unequal probablity within the world of gamekeeping.

According to legal advice we are at liberty to publish the name of the licence applicant under certain conditions. However, we have chosen not to identify him or to publish any detail that might lead to his subsequent identification. His identity is not important here; there is a wider issue of concern and revealing his identity would not add anything of importance to the debate. Besides, in the context of his licence application he hasn’t done anything illegal; it is not an offence to apply for a licence to control protected species.

So, his identity doesn’t interest us. What does interest us a great deal is a government policy that might enable someone with recent and relevant criminal convictions to be considered as a suitable recipient for a licence to control a protected species.

Natural England’s species licensing role is governed and authorised by DEFRA policy. Within DEFRA’s species licensing policy statement are a number of criteria that should be met by the licensing agency (in this case, Natural England) when assessing a licence application. One of them is that ‘the suitability of the applicant to carry out licensed activities’ must be assessed. That this criterion even exists indicates that DEFRA recognises that unsuitable candidates may apply for a licence and they provide an option (to the licensing agency) for refusing a licence on that basis.

So, just how is ‘the suitability of an applicant’ assessed? It seems to be a subjective test as we couldn’t find any guidelines on the subject. Would someone with recent and relevant convictions be considered a ‘suitable applicant’? What would be the justification for that?

Natural England has already confirmed that relevant past convictions are assessed during the licensing process. Last week, many of you (thank you!) wrote to Natural England to ask for clarification about whether the buzzard licence applicant had an un-spent work-related conviction at the time of his application. On Monday (June 3rd), Natural England responded by issuing a refusal notice, saying they weren’t prepared to divulge that information. In that refusal notice is the following statement:

You may find it helpful to know that it is part of Natural England’s standard procedures to ask all licence applicants for information on relevant past convictions. This information is taken into consideration in the assessment of the application. For example, this may lead to a more in-depth assessment of the application or additional monitoring of licensed actions. However the fact that a person has a previous wildlife related conviction (whether spent or not) does not automatically bar them for obtaining a licence and each licence application is judged on its merits”.

So, did Natural England consider relevant past convictions when assessing this licence application? They certainly mention previous convictions in their Technical Assessment of Application report (see the FoI documents), although the detail of those convictions has been redacted. However, there is no mention anywhere else in this assessment report about an assessment of those convictions or their relevance to this particular licence application, so either Natural England didn’t formally assess them, or they did and just redacted their assessment. There’s so much blacked out text throughout the whole document that it’s impossible to tell.

An interesting aspect in all this is the considerable weight that Natural England placed on the evidence (of supposed raptor predation of poults) provided by the applicant. Indeed, Natural England wrote the following in their technical assessment report:

Conclusions & Justification [of the application]: The quantity and quality of information and evidence provided for this case by the applicant appears to be thorough, systematic and accurate for this type of case”.

Put yourself in the shoes of a Natural England employee charged with assessing licensing applications to control protected species. Would you consider the evidence of a recently convicted criminal as being trustworthy and reliable?

One final point, and equally as interesting. The National Gamekeepers Organisation has repeatedly and publicly stated that illegal gamekeeping activity will not be tolerated within their organisation. We know from the FoI documents that the buzzard licence applicant is a member of the NGO. Last week we (and many of you, thank you) asked them to answer the following question:

Bearing in mind the NGO’s published Disciplinary Procedure, did this gamekeeper [i.e. the buzzard licence applicant] have an un-spent work-related conviction at the time of his application and has he ever been suspended or expelled as a member of the National Gamekeepers Organisation?”

They still haven’t answered.


13 Responses to “Surely the buzzard licence applicant doesn’t have prior convictions for poison offences?”

  1. 1 Ian Rubery
    June 6, 2013 at 7:09 am


  2. 2 Circus maximus
    June 6, 2013 at 11:28 am

    They ASK for information from the applicant? Is this in the form of a police criminal record check?
    The police are always telling us that criminals tend to think they are above all laws and are not that selective about the ones they choose to break. So if they only ask for information(to be confessed by the applicant) how do they really know the truth or have a proper handle on the character of the applicant?

    • June 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm

      That’s an interesting point. If you look at the applicant’s two application forms, he has left the box empty where it asks for details of wildlife-related or animal welfare related convictions.

      In this particular licence assessment though, Natural England should have had their own internal alarm bells ringing, seeing as though they were directly involved with the investigation that led to the conviction of the man who shares the same name, occupation and location as the licence applicant!!

  3. 4 Circus maximus
    June 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    You would think that somebody in gamekeepers role would need to have an up-to-date CRB check for their gun licence so it shouldn’t be a big ask to use the same certificate to support a licence application. If natural England won’t be allowed to ask for the check maybe there might be more success in seeking SNH’s support in raising the standards?

  4. 5 Marco McGinty
    June 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    It was quite obvious when reading through the application that the applicant was a xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

    The words gamekeeper and criminality so often go hand-in-hand, and we shouldn’t be too surprised at that, but it is the sly and underhand tactics employed by Natural England that gets to me. This is an organisation that should be protecting species such as Buzzards from this criminal element, but for some reason, dare I say corruption, they have enlisted a xxxxxxxx to persecute a native raptor in favour of a farmed (and much mistreated) animal that will be shot by pathetic little people with guns.

    And as for the National Gamekeepers Organisation – well, it shows them up for what I think they are – a vile organisation that will welcome xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx into their fold, and use such people in an attempt to get raptors onto the general licence. Just like the SGA, no-one should take them seriously and any dialogue with such groups should stop. This is yet more proof that they are not prepared to change, and they will xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx to get their own way.

    [Ed: Thanks Marco. Had to do some editing to be on safe side, but share your views!]

    • 6 Chris Roberts
      June 7, 2013 at 10:00 am

      I can guess many of the x out comments that you did make Marco, and agree with you wholeheartedly!

      • 7 Marco McGinty
        June 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

        Thanks Chris. I also fully understand the need to edit some of my comments, but it does just prove that the country is messed up when applications such as this are passed, yet the mere mention of basic hard facts can end up with court action against you. I live in hope that this will change one day, but as long as we have a right-wing government that only cater for the rich and their personal interests, and no interest in the environment or wildlife, despite claiming to be the greenest government ever (that really is a laugh!), then I’m quite prepared to accept that it won’t happen in a long time. But when it does…

  5. 8 Jimmy
    June 6, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Nothing would surprise me at this stage – NE clearly no longer fit for purpose!!

  6. 9 Merlin
    June 7, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    wouldn’t you have thought if your organisation was going to back someone in a license application that if successful you knew it would be controversial and high profile, that above all else the applicant your supporting was squeaky clean and had no skeletons in the cupboard (and no poisons).
    I’ve said before the leadership of the NGO was made up of old men, holding onto power and are completely out of touch, for bringing shooting into disrepute once again and for the sake of law abiding normal field sportsmen and women, they should follow their own guidelines and resign.
    On the subject of out of touch, Alasdair Mitchell’s comment in this weeks Shooting Times magazine that the RSPB want gamekeepers to keep persecuting birds of prey because it generates income for them just about sums up how low that magazine has sunk, a decent editor wouldn’t have published such a poorly written article but these days anything that is controversial might just sell a few extra copies and generate a bit more income

    • 10 Jimmy
      June 7, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      Doesn’t surprise me in the least Merlin – the level of BS spouted in regards to raptors week in week out in that rag exceeds even the likes of Mr Hogg and his merry men at the SGA.

    • 11 Circus maximus
      June 7, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      You have to wonder how many applications were made and turned down and whether Richard Bneyon instructed Defra to tell NE to find a way to approve? I wonder what the reasons for refusal were, what changed?

  7. 12 Merlin
    June 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    The figures, you release x amount of birds and expect to shoot on average 50% of these. Of the 50% you don’t expect to see again Buzzards take on average 2%. In extreme cases you say you can lose up to 25%, this is still only half of what you expect to lose anyway.
    “The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) was founded in 1997 by a group of gamekeepers who felt that their profession was threatened by public misunderstanding”
    Couple of simple questions, despite the backlash from conservation groups and the adverse publicity in the national media brought about by taking the eggs and young from these Buzzard nests in secret, and despite the feelings of a moral victory and the ego rush felt by those directly involved in this sad affair. Do you feel the publics understanding of Gamekeepers has improved or diminished?
    Do you feel this has shown the shooting industry in the whole in a positive way or do you feel once again a few individuals who are fairly clueless have once again brought shame on an industry in a sad attempt to satisfy their own inflated egos

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