Balaclava sales set to rise

Daily Mail Bloody battle of the glens (2)The angst generated by the successful use of video evidence to convict gamekeeper George Mutch continues, as does the game-shooting lobby’s pathetic attempts to discredit the RSPB….

The following excerpts are from a recent article in the Mail, written by Jonathan Brocklebank:

The camera was hidden in a pile of twigs deep inside a sporting estate whose owner had no idea that it had been infiltrated by Europe’s wildlife charity.

But then, RSPB Scotland needs no invitation or permission to launch covert surveillance ops on private land. These days, it gives its own go-aheads.

So it was that gamekeeper George Mutch, 48, came to be filmed with a juvenile goshawk he beat to death with a stick on the Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire. He began a four month jail sentence this week after damning footage showed him using two traps to catch birds of prey.

His apparent motive was to protect pheasants from the raptors, thus ensuring a plentiful supply of game birds for the shooting parties whose business helps keep such estates alive. Mutch, thought to be the first person ever to be jailed in Scotland for killing a bird of prey, will win no sympathy from animal lovers.

But the court case did not simply highlight the inhumane behaviour of a lone gamekeeper who brought disgrace upon his profession. It also served as a demonstration of the now immense power of the charity whose evidence convicted him.

That power, say ever-growing numbers of critics, leaves few areas of outdoor and rural life untouched.

[There follows some predictably tedious claims made by Botham’s You Forgot The Birds campaign, whose failed complaints about the RSPB to the Charity Commission Mr Brocklebank failed to mention (see here), and how some landowners are erecting signs saying RSPB Not Welcome (see here). It then continues….]

During Mutch’s trial, Aberdeen Sheriff Court was told the RSPB routinely enters estates without asking the landowners and, once inside, staff are free to use hidden cameras to gather ‘data’.

When questioned in court, Ian Thomson, the charity’s head of investigations, explained why they needed no permission. “Because we are entering an area for scientific study, we feel we are using our access rights under the Land Reform Act”.

Is it, then, acceptable for RSPB officials to march onto a private estate and set up equipment to secretly video employees?

It seems so. A spokesman for the charity told the Mail: “In Scotland, the Land Reform Act (2003) enshrined a legal “right to roam” and this includes access for survey and research purposes, provided this is carried out responsibly”.

He said the shocking images captured on the video spoke for themselves.

Notwithstanding Mutch’s appalling actions, there is a distinct air of discomfort in the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) over the means by which the RSPB’s evidence was obtained.

A spokesman for the organisation said it seemed wrong for individuals “from one particular profession” to be under surveillance in their workplace without their knowledge.

He added: “Is it the case now that charities can do this rather than the police – and is this the correct thing?

They have said they used their rights of access to go on to the land to do this. Really, they should have asked the landowner out of courtesy, if anything. Although it is not sacrosanct in law to do so, I think it would rile people a lot less if there were a little bit more cooperation from organisations such as the RSPB.

These are the things that lead to the breakdown of trust. If they did things a little bit more with due respect, they would find themselves in a lot less problems”.

His words hint at both a clash of cultures and at competing interests in the schism between senior figures in the charity and the ‘tweedies’ who own and manage vast swathes of the Scottish countryside.

While Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) routinely issues licences to farmers to control wildlife which threatens their livestock, it has never issued a licence to a gamekeeper or landowner to control any species threatening birds kept for game, which also count as livestock under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The reasons for this, gamekeepers believe, is obvious: politics.

[The rest of the article covers complaints from a gamekeeper on the Lochnell Estate in Argyll about people turning up unannounced to monitor raptor nests; how many members the RSPB has; how much income the RSPB generates; the RSPB’s involvement in the renewal energy debate; how the RSPB is seen as the ‘go to’ organisation for advice on developments; how arrogant the RSPB is; and ends with the question: Is there a time, perhaps, when a charity just becomes too big?]


So, the SGA thinks that wildlife crime investigators should let landowners know, in advance, of their arrival on a privately-owned estate. They seem to be missing the point. The landowner can now be held criminally vicariously liable for some crimes against raptors that are carried out by their gamekeepers; what do you think is the first thing the landowner would do, if he/she was notified that wildlife crime investigators were on their way? Advanced warning would hardly be in the interest of an investigation, (or justice), would it? Besides, as was pointed out in the article, nobody has to give advanced warning to a landowner of an impending visit and as long as they act responsibly once on the land, they’re well within their rights – that’s kind of the point of the Land Reform Act.

And what’s all this guff about gamekeepers have never been issued an SNH licence to ‘control’ (kill) “any species” that is perceived as a threat to their game birds? What utter nonsense! Gamekeepers routinely use the SNH General Licences to ‘control’ (kill) corvids. Ironically, this is what Mutch was supposed to be doing when he was filmed killing a trapped goshawk and shoving two other raptors in sacks and walking off with them. Sounds to us like the SGA are trying to play the victim card, again, albeit unsuccessfully.

McAdam 1The SGA aren’t the only ones up in arms about the admissibility of the RSPB’s video footage which was used to devastatingly good effect in the Mutch trial.

Here’s what the CEO of Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), Doug McAdam, wrote in last week’s SLE e-newsletter:

There can be no doubt that the custodial sentence handed down this week to a gamekeeper convicted of wildlife crime will send a very strong message out to those who continue to break the law. The illegal killing of any bird of prey is unacceptable and anyone who engages in such activity can, rightly, expect to feel the full weight of the law.

However, this case has raised some fundamental issues regarding access rights and the law as it becomes clear that a central party to this investigation [he means the RSPB] has chosen to totally disregard Scottish Government approved guidance contained in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code regarding undertaking survey work on someone else’s land. This is a serious matter in its own right, but it also reaches well beyond matters of wildlife crime, crossing in to areas such as new development and planning work where it could have some serious implications”.

Why is this “a serious matter”? It’s no such thing (unless you happen to be CEO of an organisation that just wants to have another go at discrediting the RSPB or is concerned about what future video footage may reveal). The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is just that – it’s a code, not a statutory instrument. It has as much legal influence as the Green Cross Code. It is trumped, magnificently, by the 2003 Land Reform Act. The totally independent Sheriff in the Mutch trial (who, don’t forget, was brought in because the defence thought that the original Sheriff, as an RSPB member, might be biased – see here) deemed that, in this instance, the RSPB video footage was admissible.

That’s not to say that other video footage will be deemed admissible in other trials – it will depend entirely on the circumstances of the case. In the Mutch trial, the RSPB argued successfully that their cameras were not in place to ‘catch someone at it’ – they had been placed as part of a long-term study in to crow cage trap use. That their footage captured Mutch engaging in his disgusting crimes was just a very happy coincidence.

You have to wonder, with all this consternation from the game-shooting crowd, just what it is they’re so frightened that covert cameras might record….

Now might be a good time to buy some shares in balaclava-making companies.


17 Responses to “Balaclava sales set to rise”

  1. 1 Andrew
    January 19, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    “It also served as a demonstration of the now immense power of the charity whose evidence convicted him”

    Really? Is that the power that brings gamekeepers to court and sent to jail every week.
    Em, no. As he says this is the first ever jailing of a gamekeeper for raptor persecution.

    Are there no investigative journalists out there prepared to do a little research and persuade their editor to publish?

  2. 2 Jimmy
    January 19, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    So basically the Tweedies don’t like being held to account for their ongoing criminal behaviour. I can’t wait till the RSPB get their hands on a few drones.

    • 3 Richard Towers
      January 20, 2015 at 1:18 am

      The RSPB are meant to be a charitable organisation. It would appear that they are becoming too political. Spending vast amounts of money on covert cameras and other facilities should be questionable.

      I do not condone the killing of any raptor species or other native protected species. Those that wilfully harm protected species deserve punishment through legal and social channels.

      • 4 Jimmy
        January 20, 2015 at 12:35 pm

        All crime detection techniques must be deployed if the scandal of rampant raptor persecution is to come to an end on these shooting estates

      • 5 Marco McGinty
        January 20, 2015 at 12:44 pm

        The RSPB is a charitable organisation. Why would you consider them not a charity?

        All charities will try to use politics to their advantage, and we don’t have to go too far back in time to see the various “sport” shooting charities using politics. Hen Harrier brood management scheme, anyone? Or is it perfectly acceptable for the shooting industry to use politics, but charities such as the RSPB should be banned from political actions?

        If you truly believe that “Those that wilfully harm protected species deserve punishment through legal and social channels.”, then why criticise the RSPB for using perfectly legal methods to catch this criminal in the act?

        Also, I do not believe that the RSPB is “spending vast amounts of money on covert cameras”, and I would also be interested to learn of these “other facilities” that you mention. Would you care to expand on these assertions?

      • 6 Circus maxima
        January 20, 2015 at 10:49 pm

        The RSPB is a big organisation…it spends money on lots of things…from education to reserves and from reserves to campaigning… including threats to species through persecution….all in aid of bird conservation. Its a charity and raises its funds through membership donations and grants.

        The Countryside Alliance is a shady organisation, which operates as a charity and does nothing but political lobbying. Is that proper behaviour for a charity??

      • 7 crypticmirror
        January 20, 2015 at 11:54 pm

        All Charities are political. From your local hospice charity all the way up to amnesty international. They all deal in politics, and they all push for favourable political changes and initiatives in their specific fields. The RSPB are in the field of protecting birds, that means they are going to push for better practices, push for better records of people breaking the laws on protection of birds, and seek to make public such acts. Please tell me why you think a charity set up to protect birds should be involved in recording people harming them?

  3. 8 Chris Roberts
    January 19, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    I don’t understand why surveillance cameras can’t be used to prosecute wildlife criminals in all instances. Other workers have to except them such as shop cashiers, they are used all the time to convict motorists and, in this modern age, we are all under surveillance in ever increasing locations.

    Any means to help prosecute criminals should be welcome by all law abiding citizens.

    • January 19, 2015 at 9:20 pm

      Ha ha! You are forgetting that these criminals wish to continue to enjoy their position above the law!

      Just think how many people in high society positions will lie ’til blue in the face and then more, to deny they did it.

      Surveillance cameras are so lower class and shouldn’t be used against the gentlemen, ladies and lords of this land.

      My only concern is that they can use their influence and money to squirm out the convictions.

      Let us hope that more judges will do their duty to the law.

    • 10 Adam
      January 20, 2015 at 11:17 pm

      I think the issue in this case was that cameras were placed by a private organisation and that the surveillance was covert. This is fundamentally different from CCTV in shops and traffic cameras – which are usually very much in plain sight and – on top of the law – must follow various codes of practice issued by the Information Commissioner and the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. Even covert monitoring of employees can be admissible in certain cases (see McGowan v Scottish Water [2005] IRLR 167).

      One could argue that RSPB installed the camera to record criminal activity, so it was directed surveillance. But only public authorities that are listed in RIP(S)A can carry out directed surveillance activities, so the presence of the cameras (and presumably RSPB officers too – as they were not exercising their access rights responsibly) was unlawful, therefore the footage should be inadmissible. Although I believe the argument put forward by Mark Moir, the defence agent, was slightly different.

      Eventually Sheriff Noel McPartlin decided that the Crown’s argument – the RSPB installed the cameras to research crow traps – was more convincing. As the PF depute said “the detection of crime is not their [RSPB’s] focus. It is a byproduct.”

  4. 11 Norfolk Birder
    January 19, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Maybe all those responsible estate owners should be buying trail cameras so that they can monitor the activities of their own employees. Oh, and pigs might fly as well…

  5. 12 Graham
    January 19, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    They now have vicarious liability laws in Scotland. They should be placing the land owner in the cell next door to the gamekeeper.

  6. 14 Peter Cosgrove
    January 20, 2015 at 8:32 am

    The use of (covert) cameras could simply be included as part of an amended open general licence for the operation of crow traps etc. Thus, any estate which operates crow traps under licence would have signed up to their use. Obviously law abiding estates would be fine…

  7. 15 Tim Dixon
    January 20, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Jonathan Brocklebank mithers on about RSPB not having sought permission to enter Kildrummy Estate. He conveniently overlooks the fact that if RSPB wanted so to do (doubtful I know), they wouldn’t have a bloody clue who to ask!

  8. 16 Walt Delete
    January 20, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    This type of evidence is gathered routinely in England Wales and N Ireland and is uniformly accepted by the courts as admissible on the basis that any minor civil offence ( trespass) is far outweighed by the public interest ( commission of serious offences involving the killing of protected species)

    Human rights I hear some shout………

    Article 8 Human Rights Act 1988

    Right to respect for private and family life

    1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
    2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

    This clearly does not protect persons who are committing criminal offences (killing protected wildlife)

    So why is Scotland so different in its interpretation of the same European Legislation as the rest of the UK.

    It would be refreshing indeed to add some new tools to the enforcement toolbox. Lets give the SSPCA a chance.

  9. 17 Pip
    January 21, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Trap cameras are routinely used along the SWT Tay shingle banks by the riparian owners river watchers to deter and catch (I presume) salmon poachers – wonder if their evidence would be “admissible” – you betcha!

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