Archive for the '2015 persecution incidents' Category

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

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.

17
Feb
17

Police Scotland intend to withhold raptor persecution info for 3 years

police-scotland-logoA couple of weeks ago we blogged about Police Scotland withholding information about raptor persecution crimes from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report (here). Their approach was in sharp contrast to every other UK police force that had provided data for this report.

This wasn’t the first time we’d noticed a distinct lack of transparency from Police Scotland, and indeed we remarked that it was becoming something of a speciality of theirs, as they’d also withheld raptor persecution data from the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution report (see here) and also from the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

One of our blog readers contacted Police Scotland to ask why information about raptor persecution crimes (a national UK police priority) was being withheld from the public.

Here’s Police Scotland’s response:

Primarily, the Police Scotland concern is about specialist knowledge becoming public knowledge in these cases. Police Scotland actually withholds the data from publication in relatively few cases and only after consideration against the agreed investigative strategy for a particular case. If Police Scotland is to make an appeal for information about a bird of prey killing and has chosen not to identify the substance as part of the strategy (or even identify that poisoning was the cause of death) this would be undermined by the identification of the chemical used in a public document. It would not take too much initiative to put the two together and that specialist knowledge tool is lost. A similar argument is equally as legitimate where other modus operandi (MO) are used in this form of raptor persecution.

On occasions, the decision is made not to make an investigation public at all for a variety of reasons (time of year, other ongoing investigations etc.). Publication of pesticide data or MO by HSE, RSPB or whoever else would ensure that Police Scotland loses control over this tool.

Differences in the legal system in Scotland is also another issue. The time bar for bringing wildlife crimes to court in Scotland is (in most cases) three years from the date of the offence. Police Scotland therefore expect to be able to legitimately withhold information relating to cases for that time period. This argument was supported by a specialist prosecutor from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit who also thought that this was particularly relevant in Scotland because we still have a requirement for corroboration.

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

ENDS

Police Scotland’s justification for withholding information about raptor persecution crimes is technically legitimate. They have the right to withhold information when they think it is the most appropriate and/or effective approach to take.

However, just because we accept that this is a technically legitimate course of action for Police Scotland to take, it doesn’t mean that we agree with it. On the contrary, their approach raises some very serious concerns.

The first, and most important, concern is the issue of public safety. Public safety is the underlying objective of any police force, and Police Scotland even have it incorporated in to their logo. How on earth is withholding information about the use of a dangerous (potentially fatal) poison in a given area ‘keeping people safe’?

What happens if a member of the public visits that area with a child or a pet dog, ignorant to the fact that poisoned baits have been discovered there, and they stumble across the poisoned bait and, god forbid, the child (or adult) touches it, or the dog eats it, and dies as a result? These poisons have been banned for a reason – they are so highly toxic that even absorption through the skin (via touch) can be enough to cause death. Many pet dogs have succumbed in this way and it is only a matter of time before it happens to a human.

north-york-police-poisoning-poster-may-2015At the very least, the very, very least, Police Scotland should be screaming about the use of illegal poison, every single time they encounter it. It should be in the papers, on the radio, on the TV, all over social media, and warning posters should be prominently displayed in the local area (just as North Yorkshire Police are doing – see here). What Police Scotland absolutely should NOT be doing is hiding this information from the public for three years. What on earth are they thinking?

What’s more important to Police Scotland – protecting the public from a devastating consequence or clinging to a false hope that somebody might come forward with corroborating information that might lead to an arrest? It’s a bit of a no brainer, isn’t it?

And ‘clinging to a false hope’ is a deliberately chosen expression. How many times, in the last, say, 10 years, following a raptor poisoning crime, has anyone ever come forward with corroborating evidence that has enabled a prosecution? If you read RSPB Scotland’s recent written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (here), you’ll find this statement:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.

Other concerns about the withholding of persecution crime data have been covered on this blog many times before. This lack of transparency not only undermines the public’s confidence in officially-cited (by Government) raptor persecution trends, but it also creates the false impression that raptor persecution is no longer an issue of concern. If the public isn’t reading about it, they’ll assume it’s not happening. Naturally, those with a vested interest in hiding the extent of raptor persecution crime will be all over this, using it in propaganda campaigns to indicate that the game shooting industry has finally cleaned up its act.

And of course, if raptor persecution crimes are not in the public domain, it makes it virtually impossible for people like us to track and assess the performance of Police Scotland and also that of the Crown Office in dealing with these offences. No public awareness = no public scrutiny.

How very convenient.

Police Scotland should be hung out to dry about this. Not only are they putting public safety at risk, but they are also demolishing public confidence in their ability to effectively tackle wildlife crime. We’ll be contacting several MSPs to follow up on this issue and we encourage you to contact your own MSP to make your concerns clear.

13
Feb
17

Poisons cache on East Arkengarthdale Estate: no prosecution, no subsidy penalty

In December 2016 we blogged (here) about the discovery of an illegal poisons cache, buried in a small forestry plantation on Hurst grouse moor, part of the East Arkengarthdale Estate in North Yorkshire.

east-arkengarthdale

The discovery had been made (and filmed) by the RSPB’s Investigations team in December 2014 and March 2015. RSPB Investigator Guy Shorrock wrote a blog about it (here).

We learned that an unnamed gamekeeper had been responsible for the poisons cache but the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute due to ‘procedural concerns’. Nevertheless, North Yorkshire Police revoked this gamekeeper’s shotgun and firearms certificates. The gamekeeper appealed this decision (and was represented by the BASC Chairman, no less) and the court decided his certificates should be returned.

So we asked the Rural Payments Agency (as did many of you, thank you) whether the illegal poisons cache was a breach of the conditions under which the Estate had received almost £200,000 of agricultural subsidies (public money) and if so, whether any part of those subsidies would be withdrawn as a penalty, in the same way a penalty had been applied to the Stody Estate in Norfolk for poisoning offences that took place in 2013 (see here).

Here’s the Rural Payments Agency’s response:

You have asked the following questions about the discovery of a hidden pesticide cache on Hurst Moor, North Yorkshire in 2014:

1. Did the CAP subsidies received by the specified business 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?

The RPA has determined that a subsidy penalty was not appropriate, for the reason set out below. It therefore did not need to establish the precise location of land where the poisons cache was discovered.

We considered this case under the cross compliance rules that applied in 2014 and we hope the following will explain why RPA does not have the scope to apply cross compliance penalties for breaches of this nature.

Within cross compliance, all breaches relating to storage of pesticides were provided for by a set of rules known as the sustainable use rules.  These were part of the wider set of rules covered by the plant protection product Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) which, in 2014 was SMR 9. Please refer to page 63 of the Guide to Cross Compliance in England 2014, for further information.

From 1 January 2014 a change to European legislation meant the sustainable use rules were removed from the scope of SMR 9 as far as cross compliance rules applicable to SPS payments were concerned. This meant there was no scope to apply cross compliance penalties to SPS payments for pesticide storage and unapproved product breaches that occurred from 1 January 2014 onwards.

The sustainable use rules continued to apply to rural development schemes covered by cross compliance rules, for example the full range of Environmental Stewardship schemes. This was the case until the end of 2014, after which further changes to European legislation fully removed the sustainable use rules from the scope of cross compliance.

In the rural development legislation that applied in 2014, the obligation to comply with the statutory management requirements did not apply to non-agricultural activities on a holding. In this case the evidence is that the breach was committed in connection with the non-agricultural activity of game shooting. In addition, the evidence is that the cache was not found on agricultural land, but within a small plantation of trees. Therefore it is not possible to apply cross compliance penalties to rural development payments for a breach of this nature.

END

So, no prosecution, no revocation of firearms, and no subsidy penalty.

arken

But what about a positive reaction from the grouse shooting industry itself? Surely, as members of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) and the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), organisations like the Moorland Association and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation would want to move swiftly to distance themselves from this Estate and this gamekeeper?

Well, we asked them about this (as did many of you, thank you) two months ago (here) and guess what? We haven’t heard a word of condemnation or any hint of expulsion. Just the standard wall of silence we’ve come to expect.

What we did find, though, was East Arkengarthdale grouse moor being listed as among ‘the best shoots in the UK 2015/2016‘, as recommended by ‘prominent figures and agents’ from the industry. It’s really worth having a look at this list – there are a few other ‘interesting’ names that many of you will recognise.

If ever you wanted evidence of a criminally-riddled industry protecting its own, or evidence of sham partnership working, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this case as an example.

05
Feb
17

Police Scotland continue to withhold raptor persecution data

Earlier today we blogged about the publication of the RSPB’s 2015 UK Birdcrime report (here).

Have a look at the report’s data appendices: rspb-birdcrime2015_appendices

You’ll notice a statement in relation to Appendix 3 (which is a table of confirmed and probable bird of prey and owl persecution during 2015). That statement says: ‘The details of some confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents cannot be shown, as requested by Police Scotland‘.

You’ll see the same statement in relation to Appendix 4 (which is a table of confirmed poison abuse incidents during 2015).

You’ll see the same statement in relation to the UK map of bird crime incidents 2015.

You’ll notice that no other police force in the UK has applied such restrictions to the publication of incident data, just Police Scotland.

Take a closer look at Appendix 4 (list of confirmed poison abuse incidents) and you’ll notice that not only has Police Scotland withheld the month, species, poison and county of four confirmed poisoning crimes, but they’ve also withheld the name of the poison used in every single Scottish poisoning crime (except one) in 2015. No other police force has done this. Every other police force listed in this table has provided the full details of each confirmed poisoning crime. But not Police Scotland. Why is that?

appendix-4

You might recall that in 2015 the Scottish Government organised a poisons disposal scheme that ran from Feb – May 2015 (see here). This resulted in the handing in of a massive amount of banned poisons (see here). However, it’s clear from the above table that despite this disposal scheme, some banned poisons are still being held and used illegally in Scotland. But without knowledge of the poison used, and in some cases where it was used, when it was used and which species was the victim, it is virtually impossible for us to cross-reference and track these cases.

This withholding of data by Police Scotland also renders the national statistics on raptor persecution utterly pointless. How can we have any faith in the national picture if we know that Police Scotland are refusing to release information, two years on from when the crimes were committed?

The withholding of raptor persecution data appears to be becoming a Police Scotland speciality – they’ve done it before with the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution data (see here) and also with the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

Police Scotland’s refusal to publicise some of these crimes is deeply concerning, and especially when that suppression extends to details of crimes in ‘official’ Government reports that are supposed to demonstrate openness and transparency.

Ask yourselves, in whose interest is it to keep these crimes under wraps? You’d be hard pressed to argue that it is in the interests of the general public.

UPDATE 6 Feb 2017: It’s worth re-visiting RSPB Scotland’s written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (10 January 2017) about the withholding of raptor persecution data in the Scottish Government’s annual 2015 wildlife crime report. Here’s a quote:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.




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