Scottish gamekeeper convicted for poisoning buzzard

Buzzard BellA Scottish gamekeeper has today been convicted for a number of wildlife crime offences, including the poisoning of a buzzard.

Peter Finley Bell (62) pleaded guilty to four charges at Stranraer Sheriff Court and was fined a total of £4,450.

Bell is a full-time gamekeeper and has sole responsibility for rearing pheasants and organising shooting on Glasserton and Physgill Estates which includes land on Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn.

Bell committed the poisoning offence on 23 December 2012 at Glasserton Home Farm. He had laced the carcass of a pheasant baited with Carbofuran and set the bait in a field. A birdwatcher passing the farm saw something flapping in the field and on closer inspection found that it was a common buzzard, lying on the ground, in the last throws of life.

Subsequent forensic work showed that the buzzard had died as a result of ingesting the poisoned bait.

A search of Bell’s home address on 5 March 2013 revealed poisonous substances in his tool shed and home which are illegal to possess, namely Carbofuran, Strychnine and Aphachloralose.

Bell’s fine was broken down as follows:

£2,450 for killing the buzzard (reduced from £3,500 to reflect his guilty plea)

£1,400 for possession of Carbofuran (reduced from £2,000)

£300 for possession of Strychnine (reduced from £500)

£300 for possession of Alphachloralose (reduced from £500).

There are some interesting points about this case. First of all, the speed of the judicial process – offences committed in December 2012 and March 2013, criminal convicted by June 2013! That has to be some sort of record and it is very, very pleasing to see.

But why, if the poisoned pheasant carcass and buzzard were found in December, did it take more than two months to conduct a search of Bell’s home?

It’ll be interesting to find out if Bell is/was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association: info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk

It’ll also be interesting to find out if Glasserton & Physgill Estates are members of Scottish Land & Estates: info@scottishlandandestates.co.uk

UPDATE: An important question, raised by blog commentator Michael Gill: what about vicarious liability in this case? Shall we ask the Environment Minister? Email: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

UPDATE 16.20: The SGA has issued a statement about this conviction (see here). Interestingly, they do not address the fundamental question of whether this gamekeeper is/was one of their members. The SGA is a member of PAW Scotland and serves on the PAW Scotland Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group. Would it be appropriate for the SGA to continue to serve in this capacity (and take credit for its PAW membership) without being transparent about whether it has a convicted poisoner amongst its membership? We think it would be highly inappropriate. Please raise these concerns with the PAW Scotland Chair – Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse – and demand SGA transparency on this case. Email: ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

UPDATE 17.25: Scottish Land and Estates have issued a statement to say that the estate in question has been booted out of their organisation. Good news. Statement here.

UPDATE 19th June 08.30: According to a BBC article (here), this convicted gamekeeper was indeed a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and he’s now been kicked out. Strange that the SGA excluded this information from their own statement on their own website.

20 Responses to “Scottish gamekeeper convicted for poisoning buzzard”

  1. 1 michael gill
    June 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Also, what about the new law regarding vicarious liability?

  2. 2 nirofo
    June 18, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    At last a realistic fine for a serious wildlife crime and posession of banned poisonous substances. Good work that sheriff! Let’s hope that this will start a trend for all wildlife persecution criminals to take note of. It’s just a pity that a fine Buzzard had to meet it’s end at the hands of this criminal. I wonder if the estate he works for will now do the right thing.

  3. 3 Marlene Essig
    June 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Can anybody tell me what (or who) caused the death of the juvenile osprey named ” Fearna”.?

  4. 4 Dougie
    June 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    It is a good conviction. No doubt about that.
    I cannot get my head round this principle (all crime – not just wildlife) of reducing a fine/sentence because the convicted criminal pleads guilty. How about handing out the laid down sentence for the crime when a guilty plea is made and increasing the sentence when a criminal lies in court by pleading not guilty when he/she is guilty.
    Criminals only plead guilty when they know evidence is such that a guilty verdict is inevitable.

    Yes, please follow up on the vicarious liability.

  5. June 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Please see 16.20 update at foot of blog. SGA not being upfront about whether this criminal is/was a member of their organisation.

  6. June 18, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    See 17.25 update. The estate has been booted out of the landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land & Estates.

  7. 7 Marco McGinty
    June 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Emailed SGA, SLE and Paul Wheelhouse, so I’ll wait for any responses.

    On a different matter, it is stated that the SGA are a member of the PAW Scotland Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group. I think a name change is required here. Perhaps they believe that this group should give priority to the delivery of raptor persecution!

    [Ed: Cheers Marco. We’re told this group has actually changed it’s name recently, can’t remember what to and to be honest we don’t care – what we are particularly interested in though is how much transparency is demanded from the group’s organisational members? We’ll be blogging about this soon].

    • 8 Marco McGinty
      June 18, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      Good stuff. I’ll be more than surprised if I receive a reply from SGA or SLE, and it will be interesting to hear what Paul Wheelhouse has to say on the vicarious liability issue. This would be a perfect case to use those powers, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

      Look forward to the blog on SGA transparency. That’ll be a belter!

  8. 9 Merlin
    June 18, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    massive well done to the birdwatcher who found the Buzzard and reported it and thanks to all who worked towards getting a conviction, another excuse to follow from the SGA, a safety statement issued from the health and safety executive and hopefully a first vicarious liability case brought by SLE :-)

  9. 10 Dave Dick
    June 18, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Good result..well done all involved…and a swift response from SLE, I wonder if that would have happened if not for this blog?..keep up the good work…

    • June 18, 2013 at 11:14 pm

      Cheers Dave, but real credit should be with the blog readers who respond each time we suggest sending out an email. We can see by our site stats that the email links we provide are clicked by a lot of people! This public pressure is definitely beginning to produce results.

      As far as we can remember, SL&E’s announcement this evening (about the revocation of membership of the estate where the buzzard was poisoned) is the first time they’ve made such a public announcement. It may be the first time they’ve kicked out an estate for wildlife crime offences, who knows, but their transparency on this case is good to see.

      Now, if only they’d be so open about their relationship with the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate. Blog coming soon…

      • 12 Marco McGinty
        June 19, 2013 at 12:29 am

        I hate to be a pedant, but the SLE statement does not say the estate has been expelled from SLE. It states “We can confirm that the estate in question is no longer a member of Scottish Land & Estates.”, which is most welcome, but perhaps by mentioning that the estate had been expelled would send a stronger message to their membership. The statement, as it stands, could be interpreted that the estate resigned from the scheme.

  10. 13 Circus maximus
    June 18, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    So was the criminal act per vicarious liability or not. It’s now proven that the gamekeeper xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx was a criminal, are there still investigations into the liability of the estate owner who managed the criminal?

    [Ed: Part of your comment deleted until we receive clarification on that point! Re: vicarious liability – poisoning is certainly one of the offences covered by the vicarious liability legislation. What we don’t know is what happens next re: potential VL prosecution in this case. Some of us have emailed the Environment Minister for clarification so we’ll have to wait and see. Particularly interested in how the system works, i.e. who undertakes the investigatory work to determine the relevant vicarious liability relationships involved in a particular case (police, Crown Office, someone else?) and who makes the decision to proceed with a VL prosecution….police, Crown Office, someone else?]

  11. June 19, 2013 at 4:46 am

    A fine which ought to deter somewhat, however, only a mandatory prison sentence would really change the landscape for these so-and-sos !

  12. June 19, 2013 at 7:48 am

    See update 19/6 08.25 – turns out that the poisoning gamekeeper was indeed a member of the SGA. Good to see he’s been booted out.

  13. June 20, 2013 at 8:48 am

    I’m extremely disappointed that the aspect of vicarious liability has apparently not been pursued with respect to this case. Such would have set a benchmark against which future Scottish cases might proceed. Similarly, the case could also have acted as a benchmark with respect to England and Wales as well. Given that the Environment Minister’s ( DeFRA ) response has always been that the progression of the offence of vicarious liability in Scottish courts would be closely monitored, a major opportunity has been lost to urge the matter on.

    The fact that the Law Commission’s review of wildlife regulations in England and Wales is also due at some point, and vicarious liability would undoubtedly have figured ( or even might be) in matters for future consideration, means another opportunity has been lost to demonstrate a strong potential deterrent.

    [Ed: Hi John, we don’t know that vicarious liability is not being pursued in this case – It’s probably too early to call. For VL to proceed, there first has to be confirmation on the identity of the offender; in this case that has only just been confirmed following Bell’s conviction, thus VL should, theoretically at least, now be able to proceed. What’s not clear (to us) is who takes forward the VL prosecution].

  14. 19 PC
    June 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    As well as vicarious liability there is also the cross-compliance requirements of farm subsidies to consider. It seems possible that the farm where the gamekeeper was employed is in receipt of subsidies paid for by the taxpayer. Under cross-compliance rules, a criminal offence like this should result in some of the subsidy being clawed back. It would be intersting to know if the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate are considering this.

  15. 20 Fifer by Association
    June 23, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Having investigated VL offences (not wildlife related) in the past, you would generally pursue them at the same time as the principal offence, and include all in the report to the fiscal.

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