02
Sep
16

An interesting letter from Invercauld Estate

In July we blogged about the discovery in June of a critically-injured Common gull that had been found caught in two illegally-set spring traps on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

Cairngorms Invercauld - Copy

We also blogged about a bizarre press statement from Invercauld Estate (issued via the GWCT’s twitter feed) in which they denied any illegal activity had taken place or if it had, it was perhaps a set-up ‘intended to discredit the grouse industry‘ (see here).

We also blogged about the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s press statement, which said the SGA was conducting its own enquiry (see here).

We also blogged about Police Scotland’s view that a Common gull had been found caught in an illegally-set trap but ‘despite a thorough investigation‘, Police enquiries had failed to find further evidence to proceed with a potential prosecution and ‘there are at present no further investigative opportunities available‘ (see here).

So that looked like the end of it. Until, through a series of FoIs to the Scottish Government and the Cairngorms National Park Authority, a very interesting letter has emerged.

The letter, dated 27 July 2016 (so a week after the original story had broken) was written by Angus McNicol, who identifies himself as the Estate Manager for Invercauld Estate, and was addressed to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Cairngorms National Park Authority. It’s a fascinating read.

Here is a copy of the letter: Invercauld Estate letter

Having read it, our first question was, ‘Why was this letter written?’ That’s a hard question to answer because we can’t get inside Mr McNicol’s head to read his thought processes. We can, though, speculate about the intentions. In our opinion, this letter was written to reassure the Cabinet Secretary that Invercauld Estate takes wildlife crime seriously and they’ve done something about it.

You’ll see that one paragraph in this letter has been partially redacted (by the Scottish Government – and, incidentally, the copy of the letter received from the Cairngorms National Park Authority was redacted in exactly the same place). It’s this partial paragraph that interests us the most. Here it is:

Invercauld redacted

Let’s focus on the sentence immediately before the redaction begins. “Whilst this was a press report, we decided to act on the worst case scenario, taking the report at face value“. Assuming that the ‘worst case scenario‘ might have been that an Estate employee was responsible for illegally setting the traps, the Estate ‘decided to act‘. What action they took is unknown, because that bit has been redacted. But interestingly, the word ‘gamekeepers’ appears later in the same paragraph.

Later in the letter, Mr McNicol reiterates that ‘action‘ had been taken:

Invercauldredacted2

So, was the ‘action’ to which Mr McNicol refers, disciplinary action against one or more Invercauld Estate gamekeepers in relation to this crime? Has somebody been sacked?

If that’s actually what happened, and if Mr McNicol has admitted this in writing, wouldn’t that trigger an investigation in to a potential vicarious liability prosecution?

Is that why, later in the letter, Mr McNicol goes to great lengths to explain the measures that Invercauld Estate has put in place to ensure its staff do not commit wildlife crimes? These measures, explained in such detail, might form the defence of ‘due diligence’ – remember, if an estate is accused of being vicariously liable for certain wildlife crimes, a defence of due diligence is permitted (see here).

Whether an estate’s attempts at due diligence are a sufficient defence to an accusation of vicarious liability is for a court to decide. We presume, if our interpretation of what happened is accurate, that both the Scottish Government and the Cairngorms National Park Authority have notified Police Scotland about the content of Mr McNicol’s letter and Police Scotland will now be following this up with an investigation? Time will tell.

The content of Mr McNicol’s letter raises some other interesting points.

Why, if Invercauld Estate has taken action against an employee, did the Estate deny in their original press statement that the offence had even taken place or claim that if it had, it had been a set-up ‘intended to discredit the grouse industry‘?

Who is the person/organisation that conducted “independent searches of hill ground and of buildings on the Estate to check for illegal traps, snares and illegal pesticides“? Presumably it wasn’t the GWCT – they can hardly be classed as being ‘independent’ if they’re publishing press statements on their twitter feed on behalf of Invercauld Estate. And presumably it wasn’t anybody from Scottish Land & Estates – they can hardly be classed as ‘independent’ as Mr McNicol states Invercauld Estate is a member of SLE. And presumably it wasn’t anybody from the SGA – they can hardly be classed as ‘independent’ as Mr McNicol states that ‘all the relevant staff are members of the SGA‘. So who was it?

When did these ‘independent searches of hill ground and of buildings on the Estate to check for illegal traps, snares and illegal pesticides” take place, and how often have they been conducted?

Why did Police Scotland, as part of what they described as a ‘thorough investigation‘, only speak to a representative of Invercauld Estate (Mr McNicol)? Why didn’t officers question, under caution, the gamekeepers who work on the part of the Estate where the illegally-set traps were found?

It’s all very interesting.

Perhaps we’ll get some answers once the SGA has finished its enquiry in to what happened. Presumably they’ll be publishing their findings in due course….

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17 Responses to “An interesting letter from Invercauld Estate”


  1. September 2, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Damage limitation at it’s finest.

  2. 2 against feudalism
    September 2, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    As if the ‘grouse industry’ needs help with discrediting themselves, ha !

    If they [the grouse industry] had a shred of integrity, we would have seen them actively handing gamekeepers to the police, for wildlife crime, but in decades of raptor persecution……. NOT ONCE ?

    That means that nothing they say, can be believed.

  3. 3 Secret Squirrel
    September 2, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    A Due dilligence defence, in relation to vicarious liability, requires you to have had a system in place and to have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that system is being adhered to. Not just bolting the door after the horse had fled.

  4. 5 crypticmirror
    September 2, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    ” we can’t get inside Mr McNicol’s head to read his thought processes. ” but if we could then I think it would go a little like this:

  5. 8 Simon Tucker
    September 2, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Surely this whole thing stinks of [Ed: fair point, Simon, we share your view but unfortunately we’re not able to publish it as its potentially defamatory]

  6. 9 michael gill
    September 2, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve looked very closely at the pdf of the letter and there are a few things about it I find interesting.

    I believe it was typed in Microsoft Word, but there’s something inconsistent in the paragraphs that I find confusing. All are set to be justified, except the three immediately after the redacted part which are ragged right. This suggests either a “copy, paste” from another document or literally a scissors and prittstick job.

    On page 3, the last sign off, from “I hope that this …” does not line up with the type above it. This suggests more scissors and prittstick.

    Also, the neatness of the redacting (it wasn’t done with a magic marker) and the fact that it’s not signed suggests that the letter was sent as a pdf (or even a word document) rather than a hard copy. It is possible to redact bits of type within Acrobat Pro and the result looks like it does here. However, if the redacted pdf is not password protected, it is possible to “unredact” it. This pdf though has been redacted, then printed out, then the print has been scanned again – so that what we have here is a file with just pixels and no actual type. What’s not clear is whether the cutting and pasting (either physically with scissors or electronically) was done before it reached Roseanna Cunningham’s department or after.

  7. September 2, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    There are the employed keepers, then there there is always a sycophantic group of helpers, retired keepers, wannabe keepers and hangers on….
    Who can be asked to help out…..

  8. September 2, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    So we are to believe that the estate had nothing to do with the situation as reported by the RSPB and they also had nothing to do with the magical disappearance of the evidence.
    It’s another one of those magical moorland disappearance tricks.
    The Statue of Liberty disappearance trick was done with a revolving audience.
    Looks like this one is done with revolving environmental ministers who are invited around for drinks afterwards.

    “Gimme Some Truth”

    I’m sick and tired of hearing things
    From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth
    Ive had enough of reading things
    By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth

    No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
    With just a pocketful of hope
    Money for dope
    Money for rope

    No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
    With just a pocketful of soap
    Money for dope
    Money for rope

    I’m sick to death of seeing things
    From tight-lipped, condescending, mamas little chauvinists
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth now

    I’ve had enough of watching scenes
    Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas
    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth

    No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
    With just a pocketful of soap
    Its money for dope
    Money for rope

    Ah, I’m sick and tired of hearing things
    From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth now

    Ive had enough of reading things
    By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth now

    All I want is the truth now
    Just gimme some truth now
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth
    All I want is the truth
    Just gimme some truth

    John Lennon

  9. 13 George M
    September 2, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    The last time I was on Invercauld Estate was at the end of the foot and mouth outbreak in Spring 2002. Thi was the first estate to re-open its land to the public. As my friend and I were walking just north of Loch Muick a landrover type vehicle approached with Prince Charles and a male companion inside. Both waved. It appears …. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-charles/10432364/Prince-Charles-my-countryside-heroes.html .. that Prince Charles has a long and intimate relationship with those employed there. Could this go a little to explaining the letter and the contents above?

  10. 14 Phil Espin
    September 2, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    It interests me that the Estate Manager says the police spoke just to him while the RSPB statement says the police spoke to a number of people involved with the management of the estate. What did the police actually do I wonder?

    Also it seems from the Estate Managers letter there is a market for independent professionals to search estates for criminal grouse paraphenalia. Just looking at the map to do that job would take a massive team and be worth hundreds of thousands in professional fees. Who has the competence and team to offer that service?

  11. 15 Doug Malpus
    September 2, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    I’m sorry to say that I take the denial and letter to be nothing better than Bull poo or more politely a fairy story.

    Internal investigations in such a place – “Tomorrow I will be looking for traps, snare and illegal poisons”, ” I don’t want to find any”. Is this the line of enquiry they are used to, whether it is bosses or police?


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