Archive for the '2014 persecution incidents' Category


Mass poisoning of raptors in Ross-shire to feature at film festival in New York

In March 2014, 22 red kites and buzzards were illegally poisoned in Ross-shire, in an incident that became known as the Ross-shire Massacre.

This shocking crime drew wide public attention and revulsion, leading to public protests in Inverness town centre.

Rossshire Massacre film

In 2015, film-maker Lisa Marley produced a short but beautifully evocative film about the crime and the subsequent police investigation.

Her film, Red Sky on the Black Isle, will feature at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival taking place in October 2017 in New York. Good stuff. The more international exposure that can be given to the illegal persecution of birds of prey throughout the UK, the better.

As we approach the third anniversary of the Ross-shire Massacre, when the case becomes time-barred (meaning that a prosecution is no longer possible), we will be blogging about some aspects of this case that, for legal reasons, we’ve been unable to publish before now. More in March….


Vicarious liability prosecution: Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate), part 13

Criminal proceedings continued yesterday (24 January 2017) against landowner Andrew Walter Bryce Duncan, who is alleged to be vicariously liable for the crimes committed by gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick in April 2014.

Gamekeeper Dick was convicted in August 2015 of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire by striking it with rocks and repeatedly stamping on it (see here). Mr Dick was sentenced in September 2015 and was given a £2000 fine (see here). Mr Dick attempted to appeal his conviction but this appeal was rejected on 15 July 2016 (see here).

Here’s a quick review of the proceedings against Andrew Duncan so far:

Hearing #1 (18th August 2015): Trial date set for 23rd Nov 2015, with an intermediate diet scheduled for 20th Oct 2015.

Hearing #2 (20th October 2015): Case adjourned. November trial date dumped. Notional diet hearing (where a trial date may be set) scheduled for 18th January 2016.

Hearing #3 (18th January 2016): Case adjourned. Another notional diet & debate scheduled for 11th March 2016.

Hearing #4 (11th March 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 4th April 2016.

Hearing #5 (4th April 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 3rd June 2016.

Hearing #6 (3rd June 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 17th June 2016.

Hearing #7 (17th June 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 15th July 2016.

Hearing #8 (15 July 2016): Case adjourned. Another notional diet scheduled for 2 August 2016.

Hearing #9 (2 August 2016): Proceedings moved to trial. Intermediate diet scheduled for 15 November 2016 and provisional trial date set for 7/8 December 2016.

Hearing #10 (15 November 2016): The case was adjourned for another intermediate diet scheduled for 22 November 2016. Trial date of 7/8 December 2016 is dumped.

Hearing #11 (22 November 2016): The case was adjourned for yet another intermediate diet, scheduled for 6 December 2016.

Hearing #12 (6 December 2016): The case was adjourned for yet another intermediate diet, scheduled for 24 January 2017. A provisional trial date (this will be the third time a trial date has been assigned) is scheduled for 24 April 2017.

Hearing #13 (24 January 2017): Guess what? The case was adjourned for another intermediate diet, scheduled for 11 April 2017. As far as we know, the provisional trial date of 24 April still stands although this could change depending on what happens at the intermediate diet on 11 April.

Vicarious liability in relation to the persecution of raptors in Scotland (where one person may potentially be legally responsible for the criminal actions of another person working under their supervision) came in to force five years ago on 1st January 2012. To date there have been two successful prosecutions/convictions: one in December 2014 (see here) and one in December 2015 (see here).  One further case did not reach the prosecution stage due, we believe, to the difficulties associated with identifying the management structure on the estate where the crimes were committed (see here).


Another question on withheld raptor persecution data

mark-ruskellWe’ve talked quite a bit on the issue of withheld raptor crime data from the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual Wildlife Crime report. We blogged about it when the report was published in November 2016 (here) and again earlier this month when Mark Ruskell MSP asked for an explanation from Police Scotland during the recent ECCLR Committee hearing on wildlife crime (see here).

This issue was raised again on Thursday during a general question session at Holyrood. The topic of ‘crime recording’ was being discussed and Mark Ruskell took the opportunity to ask a supplementary question:

“The cabinet secretary might be aware that “Wildlife Crime in Scotland—2015 Annual Report” came under scrutiny recently in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. It was revealed that a number of bird of prey persecution incidents from two years ago were withheld from the report despite details from other sources being in the public domain. Will the cabinet secretary undertake to investigate why that information was withheld, and will he say what Police Scotland can do to ensure that wildlife crime reporting is transparent, accurate and has the confidence of the public?”

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, responded as follows:

“Classification and the way issues are recorded in the statistics are developed by statisticians, and the approach must comply with the code of practice that is applied to recording of crime statistics. I have no doubt that if the Scottish crime recording board believes that there is a need for any alterations, it can consider that issue, as we move forward with any changes that could take place. However, I will ensure that Mark Ruskell receives a full and detailed response on the specific nature of wildlife crimes”.

The withholding of the raptor persecution data probably wasn’t due to a faulty classification system developed by statisticians. The missing data included incidents that were very clearly crimes – there’s no ambiguity about whether 4 shot buzzards, a trap containing a live pigeon decoy, and spring traps set in the open, were crimes. They obviously were crimes, even though the police-led investigation didn’t identify the person(s) responsible for those crimes.

We await Police Scotland’s explanation for why these crimes were withheld from the Government’s annual report.

Thanks to Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens, Mid Scotland & Fife) for his persistence on this issue.


Withheld raptor crime data: some info for DCS Scott of Police Scotland

This morning the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee heard evidence on the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

The archived video can be viewed here.

The official transcript can be read here: ecclr-transcript-wildlife-crime-10-jan-2017

The session was dynamite and there are many things to discuss – we’ll be blogging a lot more about this in the coming days but we wanted to start with the issue of withheld raptor crime data.

As some of you may remember, we criticised the Government’s annual wildlife crime report when it was published in November, precisely because we knew that several confirmed raptor crimes had not been included in the data presented to the Government by Police Scotland (see here). At the time, we didn’t elaborate on which specific crimes had been withheld from the report but we argued that the withholding of data completely undermined the public’s confidence in the report’s findings.

We were delighted to see this issue raised at this morning’s evidence session by Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens), and with devastating aplomb.

In the video link above, the discussion starts at 1:06:31.

Mark asked the Police Scotland representatives (ACC Steve Johnson and DCS Sean Scott) why some raptor crimes that had been recorded by RSPB Scotland had been excluded from the Government’s report. DCS Scott looked blank, and then mumbled something about perhaps the crimes weren’t actually crimes at all so they wouldn’t have been recorded. Mark pressed on and gave DCS Scott specific details about the crimes in question and even showed him a photograph of one of the illegally set traps involved, to check that it was indeed an illegally-set trap and thus a confirmed crime. DCS Scott maintained he didn’t know about these specific crimes, even when Mark gave him more detailed information about the location. This went on for some time and it was excellent to see Mark’s persistence and his unwillingness to be fobbed off. Eventually, DCS Scott committed to finding out about these specific crimes and gave assurance that he would later write to the ECCLR Committee to explain why these data had been withheld from the Government’s report.

To help DCS Scott, here’s some background about these specific crimes:

If you look at Table 19 in the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report, there is a list of raptor persecution crimes and the data are attributed to Police Scotland. Listed under Lothian & Borders, Police Scotland recorded the following incidents between April 2014-March 2015:

Peregrine shooting (Sept 2014)

Attempted trapping (species not identified) (Sept 2014)

Buzzard shooting (October 2014)

Tawny owl shooting (Dec 2014)

Now, compare the Police Scotland data with the data published in Table 4 in the RSPB’s annual report – ‘The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland, 1994-2014, A Review‘. In that report, listed under Scottish Borders, the RSPB has recorded the following additional confirmed crimes for the same time period, that were excluded from the Police Scotland data in the Government’s annual report:

Crow trap baited with 2 live pigeons, surrounded by 4 set spring traps, nr Heriot (May 2014) – there is even a photograph of this illegally-set trap on page 16)


4 x shot buzzards, nr Heriot (May 2014).



It was later revealed during the second part of the ECCLR Committee evidence session this morning, in evidence given by Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland) that the above offences were uncovered during a Police Scotland-led multi-agency raid on this estate ‘nr Heriot’, so it is somewhat surprising that DCS Scott claimed to have no knowledge about them.

In due course we look forward to reading DCS Scott’s written explanation about why these data were withheld from the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

In the meantime, kudos and thanks to Mark Ruskell MSP, who was one of several MSPs who performed exceptionally well at this morning’s evidence session. More on that in later blogs…..


Environment Committee to take evidence on annual Scottish wildlife crime report

wildlife-crime-review-2015Next week (Tuesday 10 January 2017, 9.30am) the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee will hear evidence about the Government’s recent (2015) annual wildlife crime report.

In the past, this committee (the RACCE Committee as it was then called) has only taken evidence from Police Scotland, the Crown Office, and the Environment Minister. This year it is very encouraging to see that evidence will be heard from a wider range of stakeholders. That’s definitely progress and we applaud it.

The following are due to give evidence at next week’s hearing:

Session 1

Gary Aitken, Head of Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit, COPFS

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson & Detective Chief Superintendant Sean Scott, Police Scotland

Session 2

Eddie Palmer, Chair, Scottish Badgers

Andy Smith, Committee Member, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, RSPB Scotland

Peter Charleston, Conservation Wildlife Crime Officer, Bat Conservation Trust

This evidence hearing should be fascinating. You’ll remember we blogged recently about the Government’s latest wildlife crime report (here) and we were highly critical of it because, according to RSPB Scotland, a number of raptor persecution crimes had been withheld from the report. We argued that as these were confirmed crimes, and they took place over two years ago, there was simply no justification for keeping them a secret and that by withholding these data, it undermined all confidence in the report’s trend analyses and made the whole process of annual reporting nothing more than a meaningless charade. Let’s hope questions are raised about this issue on Tuesday.

You’ll also remember that we blogged about Scottish Badger’s recent complaints to the Justice Committee about how crimes against badgers were being under-recorded (see here). Scottish Badgers reported 160 confirmed badger crimes over  a period of one year, whereas Police Scotland recorded only seven crimes in the same period, and none of those proceeded to prosecution. Let’s hope this issue is also raised on Tuesday.

The ECCLR hearing will be available to watch live on Holyrood tv and we’ll post a link to it on Tuesday morning.


Deja vu

Yesterday we published a map. It showed part of the East Arkengarthdale Estate in North Yorkshire where an illegal cache of poisons had been discovered in 2014. Here’s the map again:


Did anyone else get a sense of deja vu when looking at that map? Have a look at that forest block at the top of the map. That’s Stang Forest and it’s got quite a distinctive shape.

Now have a look at this map, which we published a year ago in December 2015:


Why did we publish this map last year? Well, it was to illustrate an area where a peregrine had been found shot dead on 23 August 2015 ‘on the south east edge of Stang Forest’.

An interesting area, eh?

Stang Forest shot perg - Copy


Subsidy penalty for East Arkengarthdale Estate?

Ten days ago we blogged about the RSPB’s Investigations Team finding a buried poisons cache on the East Arkengarthdale Estate in North Yorkshire in 2014 (see here).


Incredibly, nobody was prosecuted for this illegal stash and, despite the best efforts of North Yorkshire Police, the gamekeeper who had admitted using the poisons cache had his firearms certificates returned.

We asked several organisations within the grouse shooting industry a number of questions about this case (see here) but so far, none of them have said a word about it (in public, at least). We’ll come back to this.

What we’re interested in now is whether the East Arkengarthdale Estate will be the focus of an investigation by DEFRA’s Rural Payments Agency. Did this estate receive any agricultural subsidies in 2014, if so under what scheme(s), and does having confirmation that an estate gamekeeper was using the poisons cache constitute a cross-compliance breach of any of these subsidy schemes, and if so, will the estate receive a subsidy penalty?

According to records at Companies House, East Arkengarthdale Ltd has two Directors: Eric Axel Lennart Torstenson and Mrs Anita Ingrid Linnea Torstenson.

A search of the CAP Payments website shows that EAL Torstenson received the following subsidies in 2014 and 2015:



These documents show that EAL Torstenson received agricultural subsidies (trading as) Shaw Farm.

According to this 2003 newsletter about a Black Grouse Recovery Project, “Shaw Farm in North Yorkshire is part of the East Arkengarthdale Sporting Estate“.

Here’s a map of Shaw Farm, to the west of Hurst Moor where the poisons cache was found:


We’d like to draw the Rural Payments Agency’s attention to this case (because they have a duty to investigate anything that is drawn to their attention so by telling them about it they can’t later claim they didn’t know anything about it) and we’d like them to answer the following questions:

  1. Did the CAP subsidies received by Shaw Farm in 2014 cover the land where the poisons cache was discovered?
  2. If so, does having a poisons cache, administered by a gamekeeper, qualify as a cross-compliance breach?
  3. If so, will the Rural Payments Agency be applying a subsidy penalty?

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