Game farmer Michael Wood wins appeal against pole trap conviction

michael-wood-westfield-game-farm-copyIn 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).


18 Responses to “Game farmer Michael Wood wins appeal against pole trap conviction”

  1. 1 Les Wallace
    December 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm


  2. 2 Doug Malpus
    December 3, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    CRIMINALS can get away with too much in our justice system on technicalities.
    When we have a government that says benefit claimants are guilty until proven innocent, yet there are people xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    [Ed: libellous comment removed]

  3. December 3, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    If he really didn’t see it then he must be purblind and, as a consequence, his driving (and firearm) licence should be withdrawn as a matter of urgency.

  4. 4 Ian Robinson
    December 3, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    The long-suffering patience of the conservation bodies and the wider birding community is being abused.

  5. December 3, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    If his eyesight is so poor that he couldn’t see those traps, then clearly he has absolutely no right to be behind the wheel of a car!

  6. 7 Jimmy
    December 3, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Another case where our wildlife laws have been made a mockery of

  7. 8 Tony Warburtopn MBE
    December 4, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Ye Gods. I despair.

  8. December 4, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    No wonder there is such little trust in the Law to provide justice.

  9. 10 crypticmirror
    December 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Does make you wonder, mainly who had a word with whom about what in which smoky dens, old chaps.

    • 11 Les Wallace
      December 6, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      When the George Mutch case went to court initially didn’t the first judge excuse themselves on the basis they were a RSPB member? If this constituted a conflict with fair delivery of the law then what the hell happens when a judge with shooting interests presides over a case like this? Are they as conscientious as our bird loving member of the judiciary, doubt it somehow. Should it be a matter of public record if a judge is active shooter, certainly relevant when dealing with wildlife crime.

  10. 12 Pamela W
    December 5, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    What exactly do you expect from the detritus of humanity? It sounds like this is perfectly in character for this XXXXX

  11. 13 Jack Snipe
    December 5, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    This is why some people feel driven towards direct action.

  12. 14 wee eck
    December 6, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    The best justice money can buy……another example of an expensive Rottweiler solicitor or even barrister running rings around a hapless CPS lawyer and making a fortune whilst doing so.
    Where wildlife crime is concerned unless land owners/estates are very unlucky its only the poor that received any sort or penalty that fits the crime or is likely to reduce or prevent future offending.

    Land owners ,their agents, employees and big estates are well protected. Fines mean very little to them.

  13. 15 Jack Snipe
    December 6, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    I think this is referred to by common people as “taking the piss”, m’ Lord. I’m sure we all abide by the principle in law of being innocent until proven guilty, but in this case all common sense seems to have blown out of the window, along with natural justice. It’s not as if the trap, as shown in the photograph, was secreted out of sight in some remote glen! This tells us what we are up against in trying to get justice delivered for raptor persecution. It may be a cliche, but there clearly is one law for us, and another level of so-called justice for the rich and powerful in society. As well as reading the RPS blog, I’m sure I’m not alone in subscribing to Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust among other pro-shooting blogs, and what I see there is lots and lots of cash going into pro-shooting, anti-predator propaganda. These people are super-confident, and we need to be more aware of that and take our campaigning and lobbying to a higher level.

  14. 16 Merlin
    December 6, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    He should not be aloud to run a flee circus never mind a game farm, his aviaries are completely wired in, no birds of prey can get to his birds, if he put some cover in the runs his birds would learn to seek this when a raptor goes over, simple piece of advice for him “don’t stick tall posts at the side of aviaries as they attract raptors” this is one of the simplest rules of aviculture. reading the first blog about when he got convicted, two of his workers had police cautions for setting these traps on this farm! This is why we need vicarious liability in England, do you honestly think he would have stopped his car if there had been a bird swinging from a trap?

  15. 17 Sue Everett
    December 7, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Send this story to Private Eye

  16. 18 Andrew
    December 7, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    You wouldn’t get away with inattention like that had it been a breach of health and safety regulations. Well maybe a shooting establishment might but not your average businessman.

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