Archive for the '2015 persecution incidents' Category

21
May
17

Alleged buzzard poisoning Edradynate Estate: Crown rejects police plea to prosecute

In recent weeks the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (the Scottish equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service) has abandoned three prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution: the shooting of a hen harrier on the Cabrach Estate (here), the setting of a pole trap on the Brewlands Estate (here) and the vicarious liability of a landowner whose gamekeeper was convicted of killing a buzzard on Newlands Estate (here).

The abandonment of all three cases, without a full explanation from the Crown Office, has caused widespread frustration, anger and concern.

Well guess what? Now there’s a fourth case.

In an article in this morning’s Sunday Herald, journalist Rob Edwards reveals that the Crown Office has refused a plea from Police Scotland to bring proceedings against a gamekeeper on Edradynate Estate in Perthshire in relation to the alleged poisoning of three buzzards (photo RPUK).

The details of this case are sparse. We do know that two poisoned buzzards were discovered close to the estate in March 2015 and that both tested positive for poison, according to the Government’s pesticide testing unit, SASA (although the name of the poison has been withheld). We also know that the police later conducted a raid on the estate although we don’t know what evidence was uncovered. Perhaps this was when the third buzzard was found? Presumably though, if Police Scotland has since pleaded with the Crown Office to pursue a prosecution, we can assume that the police believed there to be sufficient evidence to charge somebody. Surprise, surprise, the Crown Office has not provided an explanation for its decision not to proceed.

UPDATE 22 May 2017: Further details about this case have emerged from an article Rob Edwards has published this morning on The Ferret website –

The Procurator Fiscal received a report concerning a 66-year-old man, in relation to alleged incidents between 18 March and 4 June 2015,” said a Crown Office spokesman.

Following full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available.”

Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, very long time. In 2002, the estate’s Head gamekeeper and underkeeper were arrested and charged with nine offences relating to the use of poisoned baits and also bird cruelty, including the use of spring traps. However, on 22 July 2004, two years after the original arrests and 13 court hearings later, the Crown Office dropped the case (sound familiar?). A COPFS spokeswoman later admitted that the time taken to prepare the case had been a major factor in the decision to scrap it (see here).

In July 2010, a poisoned red kite was discovered. An un-named gamekeeper from the estate (who said he was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association) claimed the bird had been ‘planted’. It also emerged that in addition to the poisoned red kite, over the previous 15 years, 9 buzzards, 2 sparrowhawks, 2 crows, 1 gull, 1 tawny owl, 1 pole cat, and 1 domestic cat, had all been found poisoned in the area. Twelve poisoned baits (Carbofuran, Mevinphos and Alphachloralose) had also been discovered (see here). Nobody was prosecuted for any of this.

In March 2011, two poisoned buzzards, two poisoned crows, and two Carbofuran-laced pheasant baits were discovered. A gamekeeper was taken for questioning but he was later released without charge (here).

In February 2012 an Edradynate Estate gamekeeper was charged with a number of alleged firearms and explosives offences (see here). However, in September 2012 the Crown deserted the case without providing an explanation (see here). Gosh, this is becoming quite a habit, isn’t it?

In March 2014, we revealed that Michael Campbell, the owner of Edradynate Estate, had made a generous donation to the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. We also published some astonishing commentary about the Estate written by the (now former) Tayside Police Wildlife Crime Officer, Alan Stewart (see here). This really is worth a read – it’s quite an eye-opener.

In April 2015, we revealed that Michael Campbell had made another hefty donation to the SGA (see here). Surely the SGA was aware of the long history of allegations made against this estate? Perhaps they didn’t care. As there hadn’t been a single conviction they could conveniently ignore the allegations and continue to accept the donations and continue to sit around the table at PAW meetings claiming to be doing all they could to eradicate raptor persecution.

And so now there’s yet another allegation to add to this catalogue of alleged criminality on Edradynate Estate. Ironically, the most recent alleged buzzard poisonings were discovered just a few weeks after the launch of the Scottish Government’s poison disposal scheme designed to rid Scotland of the poisons that had already been banned over ten years earlier. Yet another example of political pandering to criminal gamekeepers.

According to Rob Edwards’ article, the suspect in the most recent case has since left the estate. Interestingly, early last year we came across this advert for a new Head gamekeeper: Edradynate head keeper advert Check out the bit where it says “Nothing less than 40% returns will be expected”. Clearly there is pressure on the new keeper to deliver lots of game birds for shooting.

Edradynate Estate was recently featured in the Fieldsports magazine, with a detailed description of what happens on a shoot day. The author was there before the new head gamekeeper was employed. At the end of the article is a list of ‘guns’ (other people who were shooting that day). The name Robert Douglas-Miller jumped out at us. Surely not the same Robbie Douglas-Miller (owner of the Hopes Estate in the Lammermuirs) who runs the Wildlife Estates Scotland project for Scottish Land & Estates? What was he doing there given the long history of alleged raptor crimes uncovered on this estate? No, it must be a different Robert Douglas-Miller because a representative of Scottish Land & Estates, another PAW partner, wouldn’t be shooting on an estate that has repeatedly been described as being ‘among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime‘, right?

So, let’s wrap this up. The Crown Office has previously dropped two prosecutions against gamekeepers on Edradynate Estate, and now has refused to begin a third prosecution for reasons that have not been made public.

This is the fourth prosecution for alleged raptor persecution that the Crown Office has dropped in the last month. We can’t seriously be expected to believe there’s nothing here to be concerned about?

Let’s see what response the Crown Office provides to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee, who today have written to the COPFS to find out what the hell is going on.

And let’s hope SNH is paying attention and will be considering this estate for a potential General Licence restriction order.

Photo of Edradynate Estate driveway by RPUK

12
May
17

Brewlands Estate gamekeeper ‘cries with laughter’ at discontinued prosecution

Following this morning’s publication of an RSPB video showing footage of an alleged gamekeeper setting then re-setting an illegal pole trap on the Brewlands Estate in July 2015, which has been deemed ‘inadmissible evidence’ by the Crown Office (see here), we’ve been interested to see the response from the gamekeeping community.

Bert Burnett (an apparently now former committee member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association) posted clear condemnation on his facebook page (good) before the ‘discussion’ predictably descended in to criticism of the RSPB.

One of Bert’s followers ‘tagged in’ somebody called Chrissy Gray (for those who are unfamiliar with Facebook, ‘tagging’ someone just means alerting that tagged person’s attention to a particular post).

Chrissy Gray responded to the post with two ‘crying with laughter’ emojis:

For those who don’t know what a ‘crying with laughter’ emoji is about, have a read of this.

We were curious about who would be ‘crying with laughter’ about the news that this prosecution had been discontinued and so we clicked on Chrissy Gray’s name to find out who he was. Here’s what we found:

According to his profile details, Chrissy Gray is a gamekeeper at Brewlands Estate.

Interestingly, his comment has been up there for over three hours and nobody has condemned it.

They are figuratively (and literally?) laughing in your face, Roseanna Cunningham.

 

12
May
17

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.”

END

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)

MEDIA COVERAGE

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)

29
Mar
17

Court case continues for Angus Glens gamekeeper accused of alleged pole trapping offences

Criminal proceedings continued yesterday (28 March 2017) against Scottish gamekeeper Craig Graham.

Mr Graham, 51, is accused of allegedly setting and re-setting a pole trap, baited with a pheasant carcass, on the Brewlands Estate in the Angus Glens between 9-17 July 2015. He has denied the charges.

This case was first called on 31 March 2016, then on 22 April 2016, then on 12 May 2016 when Mr Graham pleaded not guilty. A provisional trial date was set for 9th September 2016.

This trial date was later dumped (at a hearing on 16 August 2016) and another provisional trial date was set for 5th December 2016. This was also later dumped and a third provisional date (at a hearing on 5 December 2016) was set for 15 May 2017.

At yesterday’s hearing, the case was adjourned, again, for a further intermediate diet scheduled for 25 April 2017. We don’t know whether the third provisional trial date of 15 May 2017 still stands – it depends what happens at the hearing on 25 April 2017.

Previous blogs on this case herehere and here

UPDATE 25 April 2017: The Crown Office has discontinued this case – see here.

16
Mar
17

Illegal pole trap set next to pheasant pen on Lanarkshire shooting estate

An article was published yesterday on The Ferret website about an illegal pole trap found next to a pheasant pen on an unnamed shooting estate in Lanarkshire.

Unfortunately the article now sits behind a paywall because we’ve viewed our allotted three free articles in one month, so we can’t add the actual link here. Some of you will be able to access the specific article by visiting The Ferret website and searching for it, or you can subscribe and get access to everything they publish.

Here’s an overview of the pole trap incident:

On 7 September 2015 at around 10.30am an investigator from the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) found an illegal pole trap that had been positioned next to a pheasant-rearing pen. The trap was set (i.e. the safety catch was off) and had been placed on top of a freshly-dead pheasant.

The investigator phoned the SSPCA who attended the scene at around 1.30pm and said the police should be called.

At 3.09pm, a man arrived at the pen carrying a bag of pheasant feed and was informed an illegal pole trap had been found next to the pen’s entrance door. Despite being warned not to tamper with potential police evidence, the man removed the trap from the pheasant bait and left it dangling from the post. He then entered the pen, fed the pheasants and then left the scene.

Two police officers turned up at 4pm and took the trap away in an evidence bag.

The police subsequently dropped the case.

The League Against Cruel Sports have published a video from the scene – watch it here.

The point being made in The Ferret article is that had the SSPCA been given increased investigatory powers, the SSPCA officer attending the scene would have been permitted to remove the illegal trap and collect it as evidence before the man came along and dismantled it, and the outcome of this case could have been very different.

As regular blog readers will know, we are still waiting for a long-overdue decision from the Scottish Government about whether the SSPCA will be given increased investigatory powers. Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said in January 2017 that a decision would be announced in the first half of 2017.

09
Mar
17

1,000 birds killed despite General Licence Restriction at Raeshaw Estate / Corsehope Farm

Regular blog readers will know that in November 2015, SNH issued two General Licence restriction orders on the Raeshaw Estate and neighbouring Corsehope Farm in the Scottish Borders (see here). This was in response to alleged raptor persecution crimes (see here), although there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution and the estates have denied any responsibility.

The General Licence restriction orders were supposed to last for three years, starting 13 November 2015 and ending 12 November 2018. However, since being implemented, these restriction orders have been on and off as Raeshaw Estate mounted a legal challenge against their use. This legal challenge resulted in a judicial review, which was heard in January 2017, and we await the court’s findings.

Meanwhile, unbelievably, SNH issued two so-called ‘individual licences’ (see here) – one to Raeshaw Estate and one to Corsehope Farm, allowing the gamekeepers to continue the activities they would have undertaken had the General Licence restriction orders not been imposed (i.e. killing so-called ‘pest’ bird species). In our view (here) this was a ludicrous move because it totally undermined the supposed ‘sanction’ of the General Licence restriction. RSPB Scotland shared our view (see here).

SNH responded by saying the individual licences represented “robust regulation” (see here) and argued that the use of the individual licences would be “closely monitored” and that the gamekeepers would be “under tighter supervision” than they would have been if using a General Licence (see here).

As a reminder, here are copies of the two individual licences:

Raeshaw Estate individual licence here (valid 10 June 2016 – 31 December 2016)

Corsehope Farm individual licence here (valid 1 July 2016 – 31 December 2016)

As a condition of each individual licence, the estates had to submit to SNH, within one month of the licence expiry date, a log of all activities undertaken under each licence.

Last month we submitted an FoI to SNH asking for copies of these logs, as well as asking for details of the number of visits SNH staff  had made to the two estates to check for licence compliance (you know, that ‘close monitoring’ and ‘tight supervision’ SNH had been promising). What we discovered validates all our earlier concerns about this so-called ‘sanction’.

Here are the two logs submitted to SNH by the gamekeepers, detailing what species they’d killed, where, and when. The first log is for three crow cage traps placed on Raeshaw Estate and the second log relates to a single crow cage trap situated on Corsehope Farm (believed to be operated by Raeshaw Estate gamekeepers):

In total 294 rooks and 706 jackdaws were killed between 19 July and 25 August 2016. This amounts to 1,000 birds.

SNH staff undertook one compliance check visit for each estate. Both visits took place on 25 August 2016. The visit to Raeshaw Estate took 2.5 hours and the visit to Corsehope Farm lasted for one hour.

We’ve mapped the position of the four crow cage traps (note that the grouse moor at Raeshaw Estate lies directly to the west of these traps (the dark brown area).

These findings raise a number of questions and further concerns:

  1. The licence returns only refer to two species of birds that were caught and killed using four crow cage traps. Are we to believe that no other form of avian ‘pest control’ took place on either land holding between 10 June and 31 December 2016 (the duration of the individual licences)?
  2. For what ‘purpose’ were 294 rooks and 706 jackdaws killed? According to the individual licences (see above), the purpose was to “Prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuff for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland water” and in the case of the Corsehope Farm individual licence, also to “prevent the spread of disease“. Can SNH explain the specific purpose of allowing these birds to be lawfully killed (i.e. if it was to protect livestock, what was the livestock and what threats do rooks and jackdaws pose? If it was to protect crops, what sort of crop and what threats do rooks and jackdaws pose? etc etc).
  3. What steps did SNH take to ensure that these 1,000 birds were not killed in order for the estates to produce artificially high densities of gamebirds for shooting? (This would be illegal).
  4. Why were 294 rooks allowed to be killed when this species has suffered a 37% decline in Scotland between 1995-2014, which would trigger a formal Amber listing if the listing criteria were applied at a Scottish level instead of a UK level (as pointed out to SNH by RSPB Scotland here)?
  5. Does SNH believe that one visit (per estate) for the duration of these six-month long individual licences equates to “close monitoring“, “tighter supervision” and “robust regulation“. If so, how?
  6. What did SNH staff do on their 2.5 hour visit to Raeshaw Estate? Did they just visit the three known crow cage traps or did they search the rest of this 9,000 acre estate to search for unlicensed (and thus illegal) traps?
  7. What did SNH staff do on their one hour visit to Corsehope Farm? Did they just visit the one known crow cage trap or did they search the rest of this farm for unlicensed (and thus illegal) traps?
  8. Are we still expected to believe that a General Licence restriction order is an effective sanction for alleged raptor persecution crimes, and if so, how?

We’ll be asking these questions to the SNH licensing team. If you want to join in, here’s their email address: licensing@snh.gov.uk

24
Feb
17

Police Scotland under fire for withholding info on raptor poisonings

pjLast week we blogged about Police Scotland’s intention to withhold information about raptor persecution crimes for up to three years from the time the offence was committed, as part of their ‘investigative strategy’. We weren’t impressed (see here).

Unsurprisingly, we weren’t alone. The following article was published in the Press & Journal yesterday:

Fears people could come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

Fears have been raised that youngsters and animals could be harmed by Police Scotland policies surrounding their investigation of bird of prey poisonings.

North-east MSP, Lewis Macdonald, has written to Chief Constable Philip Gormley, highlighting concerns that people enjoying a walk in Scotland’s hills could accidentally come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

In his letter, Mr Macdonald highlighted that police forces in England make the public aware of the details of such cases.

He also argued some forces, south of the border, erect signs to let the public know poison is suspected to have been used in certain areas.

However, officers in Scotland can choose not to take such measures, due to fears it could compromise investigations into the crimes.

Mr Macdonald said: “Families who enjoy our beautiful countryside in the north-east might be alarmed to learn that Police Scotland is not giving them the full picture about where poison has been used illegally to kill birds of prey.

The simple signs used by other forces in England might be enough to make the public aware of the potential danger without interfering with the investigation.

Of course, Police Scotland officers have a duty to do whatever they can to identify and catch those responsible for these crimes, and they may well believe that giving the public too much information about these incidents would hinder their investigation.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, wildlife crime lead, said: “Police Scotland balances public safety against any investigative strategy very carefully, and withholds information in only a very few cases.

It does so where the release of such information could potentially compromise an ongoing investigation.

Due to the differences between Scots law and other jurisdictions in the UK necessitating the need for corroboration, earlier release of information could compromise ongoing cases.

Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by some forces in England and Wales, but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures we must ensure we use every tool available and, on occasion, this will include withholding information about a crime.”

ENDS

Well done, Lewis Macdonald MSP. We don’t know whether he reads this blog directly or whether one of his constituents sent him a link. No matter, he has responded in the best way possible and we thank him for that.

Just a quick word about DCS Scott’s comment on withholding information: “Police Scotland withholds information in only a very few cases“. Er, we beg to differ.

In the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report, Police Scotland deliberately withheld the name of the poison used in every single poisoning crime except one. That’s nine cases with withheld information. That’s nine cases in one calendar year. That’s quite a lot of poisoning offences with withheld information, not “a very few cases” as DCS Scott claims. And in four of those cases, Police Scotland has even withheld information about the month the offence was committed, the affected species, and the county where the offence took place. Because apparently, telling the public which month a poisoning offence took place will totally compromise the police investigation.

appendix-4

By the way, we’re still waiting to read DCS Scott’s written explanation to the ECCLR Committee about why six confirmed raptor persecution crimes were excluded from the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here). Were these crimes also deliberately excluded or was this just incompetence rather than strategy? It’s getting hard to differentiate.




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