Kildrummy Estate: vicarious liability prosecution?

scales-of-justiceOn 11th December 2014, Scottish gamekeeper (and SGA member) George Mutch was convicted of four wildlife crime offences that he’d committed on the Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire in 2012 (see here).

On 12th January 2015, Mutch was given a four month custodial sentence for his crimes; the first gamekeeper to be jailed in the UK for killing raptors (see here).

Both his conviction and sentence were widely welcomed across the conservation community, not least because video evidence had been deemed admissible in this case and because the agencies involved in the investigation and prosecution had worked exceptionally hard to achieve these results.

Hopes were high that a subsequent vicarious liability prosecution would follow, especially when a journalist friend told us that Fiscal Tom Dysart had made a point of asking Mutch in court whether he’d received any training for the use of his traps, to which Mutch had replied, “No”. That response would indicate that a defence of ‘due diligence‘ wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny for anyone charged with being vicariously liable for Mutch’s crimes. All good so far, although Andy Wightman cast doubt over the feasibility of charging someone from Kildrummy Estate given the difficulty of establishing ownership there (read his blog here).

So seven months on, what’s happening now?

Well, it all gets a bit interesting around about now.  As we understand it, for offences committed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act, criminal proceedings MUST begin within three years from the date of the commission of the offence (two years in England & Wales). After three years, the case becomes ‘time-barred’ and it is no longer possible to prosecute.

Mutch was convicted of four offences, and the dates those offences were commissioned are as follows (info from COPFS press release, January 2015) –

  1. On 14 August 2012 & 15 August 2012, Mutch did intentionally or recklessly kill or take a wild bird, namely a goshawk.
  2. On 23 August 2012 and 24 August 2012, Mutch did intentionally or recklessly take a wild bird, namely a buzzard.
  3. On 28 August 2012, Mutch did intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a wild bird, namely a goshawk.
  4. Between 6 August 2012 – 13 September 2012, Mutch did use a trap to catch two goshawks and a buzzard.

Pay close attention to those dates. The first three offences are now time-barred (unless someone has already been charged) because it is over three years since they took place. The final offence is not quite time-barred, but will be by this Sunday (13 Sept 2015).

So, two big questions:

  1.  Has somebody from Kildrummy Estate been charged for a vicarious liability prosecution for the first three offences, and if not, why not?
  2. Is the Crown Office intending to charge someone (before Sunday) from Kildrummy Estate for a vicarious liability prosecution for the fourth offence, and if not, why not?

This case is of huge public interest and we don’t think it unreasonable to be asking questions, especially when successive Environment Ministers keep telling us that the effectiveness of Government policy against the raptor killers will be measured by the success of approaches such as vicarious liability.

If, like us, you’re curious about what’s happening with this case, you can email the Crown Office and ask them. The usual response when we ask about criminal cases is ‘As this case is on-going it would be inappropriate to comment’. It’s a handy ‘get out’ option when the authorities want to keep the public in the dark. The Crown Office could legitimately respond like this in this case, if they’ve already charged somebody. However, if they haven’t charged anybody, then the case is now time-barred and therefore cannot be said to be ‘on-going’.

Let’s see how transparent and accountable they wish to be. Emails to Helen Nisbet, Head of Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit, Crown Office & Procurators Fiscal Office: Helen.Nisbet@copfs.gsi.gov.uk


6 Responses to “Kildrummy Estate: vicarious liability prosecution?”

  1. 1 steve macsweeney
    September 8, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Email sent.Thanks for the opportunity to peruse these toe rags

  2. 2 Douglas Malpus
    September 8, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Email sent with a copy to my MP.

  3. 4 ian rubery
    September 9, 2015 at 11:01 am

    Dear Helen,
    Because of suspicions arising from the time lapses can you say whether or
    not somebody from Kildrummy Estate has been charged for a vicarious liability
    prosecution for the three offences otherwise now time lapsed?
    Further, can you say whether or not the Crown Office is intending to charge
    someone from the Kildrummy Estate for a vicarious liability prosecution in
    regard to a fourth offence, due to time lapse Sunday next, 13th September
    Yet further, I look forward to receiving an eloquent explanation (i.e.
    without the usual fudge) of how effective the Government has been in
    pursuing cases of vicarious liability for raptor killers, if you will?

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