In February this year we blogged about the conviction of game farmer Michael Wood, who was found guilty of permitting the use of a pole trap at his game-rearing facility Westfield Farm in Cropton, North Yorkshire (see here).
Mr Wood’s conviction was based on the magistrate’s opinion that it was “inconceivable” that Wood had not known about the trap, as RSPB surveillance evidence outlined how he had driven past this exposed trap and also another (with the safety catch engaged) a short distance away. Wood had basically claimed it was getting too dark to be able to see the traps. His evidence was contradicted by his wife who outlined the things her husband was checking as he drove around the site.
However, Mr Wood appealed the verdict and the judicial bench at York Crown Court has now upheld his appeal because ‘the prosecution had failed to prove its case’ (see article in today’s Gazette & Herald here).
This is an interesting case. The most interesting feature (from our perspective) is that the RSPB’s surveillance evidence was deemed admissible. At the original trial the defence tried unsuccessfully to have this evidence excluded. At the appeal this was not even contested, neither this time were the actual light levels as shown by photographs taken by the RSPB. Unsurprisingly, Mr Wood’s wife did not give evidence at the appeal. So, it appears the admissibility of the RSPB evidence was NOT an issue at the Crown Court. Mr Wood’s appeal was successful because the prosecution were not able to convince the court that Wood had actually seen the trap, not that he’d been covertly observed driving close to the traps. That’s a very important distinction.
What’s also interesting about this case is that, following the day Wood was seen on site, the North Yorkshire Police, assisted by RSPB, seized a total of five illegal pole traps found set around the breeding facility. However, two employees only received a police caution in relation to these traps – they weren’t prosecuted for setting them. As they’d been cautioned, this infers that they’d admitted to setting them. Why weren’t they prosecuted for setting these illegal traps, if they’d admitted their guilt? In 2014 a gamekeeper on the Swinton Estate (also in North Yorkshire) was convicted of twice setting a pole trap (see here), so how did Mr Wood’s two employees escape prosecution when they’d set five pole traps between them?!
If you look at the position of the traps (see the photo and see the short video made by the RSPB Investigations team here), you can see how discreetly positioned they were. They must have been really easy to miss, eh?
As we reported in February, Mr Wood has a current criminal conviction for wildlife offences. In 2011 he was successfully prosecuted for releasing thousands of pheasants (for shooting) on a site of special scientific interest when permission had only been granted to release 500 birds. It was argued the birds had caused ‘significant damage’ to the conservation area and Mr Wood and Yorks Sports Ltd (of which Mr Wood was a director) were each fined £20,000, plus £125,000 between them towards the prosecution costs, and they also had to pay a £145,000 defence bill (see here).