Brewlands Estate “inadmissible” pole trapping video released

A week after RSPB Scotland published the “inadmissible” video evidence of a hen harrier being shot on Cabrach Estate in Moray (see here), this morning they have released another video from another case that prosecutors decided to drop without explanation.

This case concerned gamekeeper Craig Graham, who was accused of allegedly setting and re-setting an illegal pole trap on the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens in July 2015.

Photo of illegally-set pole trap on Brewlands Estate (by RSPB Scotland).

The case called in March 2016 and Mr Graham denied all charges so the case was sent for trial. We tracked this case through the courts, where it was repeatedly adjourned (two trial dates were set and then later dumped). A third trial date was set for 15 May 2017 but then at another hearing on 25 April 2017, we learned that the case had not called as the Crown Office had dropped all proceedings. This was the third case the Crown Office had inexplicably dropped within a two week period.

Here’s the “inadmissible” RSPB Scotland video footage:

It’s worth turning up the sound as part of a conversation has also been recorded: “And then, when we were there, a buzzard went right over the top, if you had a shotgun it’d be dead“. It’s not clear who is speaking to whom, but it’s an indication that more than one person was present at the scene.

Here is the RSPB press statement:

Second discontinued prosecution for alleged raptor persecution offences

RSPB Scotland has expressed its frustration and disappointment after another prosecution of an individual charged with alleged wildlife crime offences was discontinued by the Crown Office in Scotland.

The latest case began on 9th July 2015 when RSPB Scotland staff, walking on the Brewlands Estate in Glen Isla, Angus, discovered an illegally set spring trap placed on top of a pheasant carcass that had, in turn, been placed on a post just a few metres inside a pheasant pen. The trap was in effect a baited “pole trap”, which has been illegal since 1904, and is designed to snap shut and break the legs of a bird of prey, holding the victim until it can be dispatched by the trap operator.

The RSPB team, having no mobile phone signal to allow contact with the police, made the trap safe to ensure no birds would be caught. They then deployed a video camera focussed on the area, with a view to securing the evidence until the police could attend and recover the trap.

A few days later, RSPB Scotland staff accompanied a police wildlife crime officer to the scene, where it was found that the trap had been reset. The police seized the trap as evidence, and the camera was recovered.

Review of the footage filmed by the camera showed an individual resetting the trap twice in the days after which it had been found. On the first occasion it was set, it was seen to later fall off the pheasant bait and trigger itself.

The footage was passed to the police, who subsequently identified the individual setting the trap, and who later charged him with four alleged offences, contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and sent a report to the Procurator Fiscal, who marked the case for prosecution.

The case was first called, at Forfar Sheriff Court, on 31st March 2016, with subsequent hearings on 22nd April and 12th May 2016, during which the accused plead not guilty to the charges libelled. Following two further hearings, the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service recently notified RSPB Scotland that following consideration of the case by Crown Counsel, the prosecution could not rely on the RSPB video evidence and would be discontinued. No reason for this decision was provided. The case had been scheduled for a trial beginning on 15th May 2017.

RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management, Duncan Orr-Ewing said: “For one case, where there was excellent video evidence to support the prosecution, to be discontinued inexplicably by the Crown Office so close to the trial was baffling. For a second case to be discontinued, again with no explanation from the Crown Office, and again without the opportunity for the evidence to be tested in court, is deeply concerning, and significantly undermines our confidence in the ability of Scotland’s justice system to bear down on the criminals who continue to target our protected birds of prey.”


Map showing location of the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens (estate boundary based on information from the Who Owns Scotland website).

So, here we are again. There’s not much we can say that hasn’t already been said. Justice has once again not been seen to be done and it looks, to all intents and purposes, that something is seriously amiss with the criminal justice system. How can this case, as with the hen harrier shooting case, get so far down the prosecution route only to be dropped at the last minute? Why did the Crown fiscals deny the opportunity for this evidence to be scrutinised in court? We don’t know, because, yet again, the Crown Office has refused to discuss the decision.

Public anger was very evident last week after RSPB Scotland released the video showing a hen harrier being shot, and this resulted in questions being asked yesterday at First Minister’s Question Time. The release of this latest video footage will only add fuel to that fire.

Again, if you live in Scotland we would urge you to contact your local MSP and ask them to raise this issue with the Lord Advocate and the Justice Cabinet Secretary. We know through correspondence that many of you contacted your MSP last week (thank you) and it’s important that you do so again with this case. You can find your local MSP here. For those of you not in Scotland, please email your concerns to the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, Margaret Mitchell MSP (Scottish Conservatives). Email: margaret.mitchell.msp@parliament.scot

We are at a critical point right now, with Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham due to make two serious decisions concerning illegal raptor persecution in Scotland: the long overdue decision on whether to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA, and her intended action in response to the findings of the raptor satellite tag data review. These decisions are expected before the end of June 2017. There is also the Environment Committee’s on-going consideration of the petition to introduce a licensing system for all game bird hunting, although the time-frame for their deliberations is less clear.

What happens between now and the end of June will be pivotal to how we proceed in future. If the Scottish Government continues to prevaricate, in the face of such blatant and persistent criminality, and in the face of such overwhelming evidence, we will be re-thinking our strategy. Enough is enough.

UPDATE 3pm: Brewlands Estate gamekeeper ‘cries with laughter’ at discontinued prosecution (here)


BBC Scotland website here

STV news here

Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association statement here (as last time, no membership interest so very little comment, and no condemnation)

34 Responses to “Brewlands Estate “inadmissible” pole trapping video released”

  1. 1 Rob Sheldon
    May 12, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Not much more that can be said about this case and the Hen Harrier shooting last week.

    But spare a thought for the incredible RSPB Investigations Team. They work tirelessly to get these cases to this stage, and to have them dismissed like this must be soul destroying. Keep up the fantastic work. Let’s get behind them and give them our support. #wewillwin

  2. 2 dave angel
    May 12, 2017 at 8:50 am

    It would be ironic if the huge amounts of money that the shooting industry has thrown at vigorously defending every criminal case ultimately results in the introduction of a licensing system for shooting estates.

    And regarding such a system, could it be made a condition of being granted a licence that the RSPB, the SSPCA and any other relevant body will be deemed to have consent to install covert cameras for the purpose of protecting raptors?

  3. 3 Homer Simpson
    May 12, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I would like to make a couple of points.

    1) 3 dropped prosecutions (possibly 6, with VL cases that may well have followed.
    2) The shooting apologists keep pointing to the lack of prosecutions as evidence of improvements being made by gamekeepers, those on the ground know that things are as bad as ever, in fact in some areas they are worse.
    3) I would like to congratulate the RSPB investigations team for excellent work they do, if must be very frustrating to work like this when even the legal system works against you.
    4) Is is time we bypassed the legal system completely and just published the details of these crimes immediately? There is very little to suggest that the system is doing anything to help, indeed we have the head of the NWCU suggesting that we need to engage with the criminals rather than pursue prosecutions, groups talking and trying to dilute the impact of the data collated to prove these crimes are happening on a large scale where ever game shooting is prevalent across the UK.

  4. 4 Chris Roberts
    May 12, 2017 at 9:38 am

    With the Scottish justice system apparently on the side of the wildlife criminals, what chance has our ‘protected’ wildlife got?

  5. 5 Tony Dickinson
    May 12, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Further evidence of Scotlands disregard for wildlife and the law. No chance of an Independent Scotland getting into EU with this happening N Sturgeon!

  6. May 12, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Is there a cost issue here for the Crown Office ? I can understand they may have other cases to work on, just as “important” with decreasing resources. It’s very likely that any defence solicitor will play on this to have the case repeatedly adjourned if it’s not costing his or her client. Perhaps publicity at the time the case comes to court is the answer.
    Does anyone know if there is a common thread to the adjournment of these cases ?

    • 7 dave angel
      May 12, 2017 at 10:18 am

      I may be wrong, but from what I can gather all these cases are dealt with by one firm of solicitors, who also act for the SGA. They don’t do legal aid work, and they don’t come cheap. Historically at least they have some connections with the SNP. They also seem to work closely with Media House a reputation and crisis management PR company who work for SLE and similar organisations.

      It looks like a no expenses spared, broad front approach from the shooting industry.

      They’re rattled.

    • 8 Adam
      May 12, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      It seems, on the basis of the news reports, that there are legal issues.

      The common thread is that these are all summary cases. There is an Audit Scotland report which examines this particular issue. It’s worth a read: http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/report/efficiency-of-prosecuting-criminal-cases-through-the-sheriff-courts

      I vaguely remember a case where the JP refused to endorse a witness warrant because he thought that it was a waste of money, but on appeal it was explained that while the cost implications of a prosecution do form part of the public interest test they are not particularly weighty factors (ie. a case would not be adjourned or discontinued only to save money). There is a cost issue, but it’s for tax payers and not for the Crown Office in particular.

  7. 9 Merlin
    May 12, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Brilliant work once again by the RSPB, if this had happened in a third world country people would immediately jump to the conclusion it was the fault of a corrupt government or a tinpot dictator, once again criminals caught in the act being let off the hook, thoroughly disgusted

  8. May 12, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Time to organise direct action & shoot disruption even if it is delayed a while longer to collect more evidence from tagging etc.
    The available access to such areas where the criminality persists is a weak point in the driven grouse shoot armour.
    They rely on remoteness for secrecy but it also allows mass access.

    Keep up the pressure !

    • 11 Iain Gibson
      May 12, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      If I wasn’t old and decrepit I’d be volunteering to take part in such direct action. However anyone getting involved must go in with their eyes open. Judging from the way hunt saboteurs are treated, the Police are likely to side with the grouse shooters and arrest protesters for breach of the peace or something similar. It’s a weird situation, but perhaps not surprising in our society, when the legal system seems to be operating in a sympathetic way towards criminals. And I suspect RSPB won’t want to be associated with hunt saboteurs (but as usual all credit to their Investigations staff). I agree though that something radical needs to happen to get the message across to the wider public, on several fronts.

  9. 12 Andy Holden
    May 12, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Share this post to every social media site you’re part of. The more the public become aware of such crimes the more chance there will be of seeing a change in attitude from our weak-on-wildlife-crime government.

  10. 13 SilverBirch
    May 12, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Given that gun licences are subsidised with public money, the judiciary, all serving police, and anyone relevant to shooting ought to have their names made public if they hold a shotgun licence. This ought to be mandatory on the form required in order for greater transparency/ fairness and to avoid a conflict of interest should matters end up in court.

    • 14 Northern Diver
      May 13, 2017 at 11:31 am

      Thoroughly agree. Also the fee ought to be put up to at least cover the costs of administration. I believe David Cameron vetoed that – and of course he has now taken up his game shooting hobby again – what a surprise! For the good of a few not the good of the many.

  11. 15 Simon Tucker
    May 12, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Sickening – and if you do er-mail Margaret Mitchell don’t expect the courtesy of a reply. One cannot help concluding that there is root and branch corruption.

  12. 16 Derik Palmer
    May 12, 2017 at 11:30 am

    As an Englishman living in England there is very little I can do to help influence the Scottish government, and i find that very frustrating. However I should like to comment the RSPB Investigations team, and the police wildlife crime officers for their continuing diligence in pursuing these cases. It must be hugely dispiriting for them to see such evidence cast aside in such a partisan way; after all, if this had been a bank robbery caught on CCTV I have no doubt that such evidence would be very admissible indeed.

    Readers of this forum will be well aware of the problems of senseless killing and trapping in Cyprus and Malta; we are rapidly losing the moral high ground from which to castigate such countries for these practices when we can’t – or won’t – enforce the laws we have put in place to protect wild birds in our own countries.

    • 17 dave angel
      May 12, 2017 at 11:47 am

      ‘As an Englishman living in England there is very little I can do to help influence the Scottish government’


      You can appeal to their vanity and jingoism. Tell them that as a mere Englishman you are looking to the Scots to take a lead on this issue. To show how different and much more progressive the Scots are. They like that sort of thing.

  13. 18 Peter Hack
    May 12, 2017 at 11:37 am

    This report defines an institutional corruption that runs from this trap to both Houses of Parliament; the woeful inadequacy of the Parliamentary debate is laid bare. The blind eye to wildlife law and the true course of justice courses from Sandringham to the landowners of the Houses of Commons and Lords. This is cultural and class based and is anarchy defined by power.There perhaps needs to be a Royal Commission to investigate and report. Some relevant heads must roll in Scotland. The resignations or sackings of some law officers is required and some form of motion of no confidence in the administration of justice has to be moved..

  14. 19 crypticmirror
    May 12, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Will you tell me again it isn’t corruption in high office and a stitch up? Will you tell me again that it isn’t time to take the law into our own hands? Will you say again to be patient and let the people of good intent handle things?

  15. 20 chris lock
    May 12, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    The judiciary are mostly involved in this as are the politicians’, the simple plod who is on the coal face is likely the most honest and compassionate of the bunch.

  16. May 12, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    It seems odd that the Fiscal can decide a case based on the ‘intent’ of the RSPB but can’t determine the ‘intent’ of a that guy on a quad bike with an Eagle Owl a few weeks back.
    Mind reading seems to be a job requirement for the PF.

    • May 12, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Prasad,

      The Fiscal didn’t have an opportunity to decide the ‘intent’ of the guy with the eagle owl as the case wasn’t reported.

      • May 12, 2017 at 6:06 pm

        Yes i stand corrected.
        But wasn’t the point that intent is extremely difficult to prove yet here the fiscal have decided the intent of the RSPB.

        • May 12, 2017 at 6:13 pm

          I admit to be comparing apples and pairs here. One was an alleged **** and the other was collecting evidence.

          There really does need to be clear guidance on the whole issue. The COPFS claim they have given it to the RSPB but that doesn’t ring true. Why would the RSPB waste so much resources if they knew it would be inadmissible. Even Alan Stewart and Dave Dick are perplexed.

  17. 25 Secret Squirrel
    May 12, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    Sounds like when these have come for trial, at which point a Crown advocate is appointed to take the case to trial he/she on reviewing the case has made the decision that the evidence is insufficient. I do wonder if we have a new Crown counsel on wildlife cases. The Fiscals (Solicitors) may have thought differently, but the Advocate’s word is usual law ( excuse the pun)

    • 26 Adam
      May 12, 2017 at 8:27 pm

      Well, at least in this case it is obvious that that the video was not the by-product of scientific research or nest monitoring.

      Advocate deputes don’t do summary trials. Sheriff and Jury, and High Court cases are reviewed by Crown Counsel before the indictment is issued, but I doubt that CC would (normally) review summary cases. I cannot imagine summary fiscal deputes asking for instructions from CC for (ordinary) summary cases. The BBC report says that the wildlife and environmental crime unit is “under the direction, as required, of a senior advocate depute” who may have reviewed these cases, but it would be interesting to know why the decision to discontinue was made only after a couple of intermediate diets.

  18. 27 Secret Squirrel
    May 12, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Might be worth looking at other cases with irregular video evidence recently to see if any have similarities, especially in an ECHR context

  19. 28 Jimmy
    May 12, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Scotland appears to be a banana republic when it comes to wildlife crime

  20. May 13, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    What really gets to me is if I was to come across one of these traps and damaged or destroyed it I would face prosecution. There would be no inadmissible evidence because these fuck heads who own these estates appear to own the law lock, stock and barrel.

  21. 30 Andrew
    May 13, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    There seems to be lots of referrals to the inadequate response to “wildlife crime”. As far as I can see the inadequate response seems much more prevalent where the interests of the shooting lobby are concerned.

  22. 32 Jenna
    May 14, 2017 at 9:11 am

    It begins to make sense now.

    Police are the only agency with powers to investigate wildlife crime…..and put very little resources into anything but poaching.(protecting interests of landowners)

    COPFS are the only agency able to prosecute wildlife crime…….and manybever effort not proceed with any case involving land owners or their staff.

    SSPCA offer to give assistance to help combat wildlife crime at no expense to the tax payer.

    Lets wait and see what happens……

    Disgusting and corrupt.

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