Posts Tagged ‘gamekeeper

14
Aug
17

Grouse shooting industry silent on marsh harrier persecution

Last Thursday (10th August 2017) North Yorkshire Police issued an appeal for information about several armed men, dressed as gamekeepers, who had been filmed trying to shoot a nesting Marsh harrier on a Yorkshire grouse moor in May. Some more armed men, still dressed as gamekeepers, were also filmed removing eggs from the Marsh harrier’s nest.

The Police appeal for information about the crimes, and an RSPB blog about the crimes, can be found here. The RSPB’s video footage of the crimes can be viewed here:

Four days on, we were interested to find out what the leading representatives of the grouse shooting industry have had to say about these crimes so we checked the following website news sections:

Moorland Association – nothing

National Gamekeepers Organisation – nothing

Countryside Alliance – nothing

British Association for Shooting & Conservation – nothing

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – nothing

No condemnation of these crimes. No appeals for information about these crimes from within their industry. Just a complete wall of silence. We even asked the Moorland Association whether this grouse moor was a member, and we asked the National Gamekeepers Organisation whether they had any members employed on this grouse moor. The responses? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

It’s the same deafening silence that followed the discovery of a poisons cache buried on another North Yorkshire grouse moor (see here).

Isn’t it great to see these ‘partners’ in the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) speaking out and doing their utmost to fight against illegal raptor persecution? It’s yet more evidence that the whole ethos of ‘partnership working’ against raptor persecution is nothing more than a sham.

Actually, how does this collective silence meet with the requirements of being a PAW member?

Let’s look at the PAW mission statement first:

Working in partnership to reduce wildlife crime through prevention and awareness-raising, better regulation, and effective and targeted enforcement‘.

Now let’s look at the PAW objectives:

  • PAW will raise awareness of wildlife legislation and the impacts of wildlife crime
  • PAW will help and advise on wildlife crime and regulatory issues
  • PAW will ensure all wildlife crime is tackled effectively.
  • All PAW members of PAW UK should take action in support of these overarching objectives

How does refusing to comment about raptor persecution crimes meet with any of the PAW objectives?

Some of these PAW members (all of them except the GWCT) are also members of the England & Wales PAW subgroup, the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG). This is the group that DEFRA has identified as being integral to their highly controversial Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. Part of the RPPDG’s role is to provide publicity about raptor persecution, in order ‘to build trust and transparency’. Strange then, that we haven’t found any statement from the RPPDG about the persecution of Marsh harriers on this North Yorkshire grouse moor.

We were interested to read about a few hundred Hunt Saboteurs ‘sabbing’ (disrupting) a couple of grouse shoots this last weekend. As the shooting industry members of the PAW Partnership continue to deliver nothing at all, don’t be surprised to see more of this direct action approach in the months and years ahead.

25
Jul
17

Scottish Raptor Study Group letter in response to estate licensing scaremongering claims

Earlier this month we blogged about two articles that were published in the Scottish Mail on Sunday about so-called ‘draconian’ proposals to introduce a licensing scheme for game shooting estates (see here).

One piece was just a review of various organisations’ positions and the other one was a fairly lengthy comment piece written by Carrieanne Conaghan, a gamekeeper’s wife and coordinator of the Speyside Moorland Group. Carrieanne claimed that the introduction of estate licensing would ‘penalise‘ law-abiding estates, although she didn’t explain how she thought this would work.

Logan Steele, the estate licensing petitioner (on behalf of the Scottish Raptor Study Group) contacted the Mail on Sunday and asked for the opportunity to provide a comment piece in response, especially as Carrieanne had made a number of unsubstantiated (and inaccurate) claims about his motivation for launching the petition. The Mail on Sunday refused (surprise!) but did say he could write a 150-word letter, an option Logan described in a comment on this blog as “a pretty second rate alternative“.

Nevertheless, Logan did submit a letter and it appeared at the weekend. He says it’s been “butchered” (the published version is only 89 words) and they couldn’t even spell his name correctly. Even so, he makes his points well:

A quick bit of background research has led us to believe that Carrieanne’s husband is employed as a gamekeeper at Glenlochy, near Grantown-on-Spey in the Cairngorms National Park. This estate is no stranger to police investigations into alleged raptor persecution (e.g. see here) although nobody has ever been prosecuted. This history, perhaps well before her husband’s employment, might help explain Carrieanne’s concerns about the introduction of an estate licensing scheme.

18
Jul
17

SGA Chairman wonders why gamekeepers aren’t respected

We always look forward to the publication of Scottish Gamekeeper, the quarterly rag for members of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. As you can imagine, it’s often stuffed full of bright intellectual commentary and an appreciation of birds with hooked beaks and sharp talons.

The latest edition landed on our doormat last week and as ever, its content didn’t disappoint. Looking at the cover, we were particularly keen to read Chairman Alex Hogg’s thoughts on ‘working people’ (he means gamekeepers) being fed up about being wrongly ‘tarred’.

As an aside, we were also intrigued to see the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) logo displayed on the banner. As some of you will recall, the SGA recently spat the dummy and announced they’d no longer attend PAW Raptor Group meetings. So apparently you can be a member of PAW, and pick and choose your own terms of engagement. Marvellous.

Anyway, back to Chairman Hogg’s musings on life. Here’s his column:

Apart from having to point out to Chairman Hogg (not known for his grasp of factual accuracy) that, contrary to his claim, the hen harrier is red-listed precisely because of ‘poor management actions by gamekeepers’ in Scotland (and of course in England), what really intrigued us was his confusion about why gamekeepers are so maligned.

It’s a tricky one alright. Maybe, perhaps, we’re not entirely sure, but might it have something to do with the fact that of all those convicted for offences related to raptor persecution in Scotland between 1994-2014, 86% of them were gamekeepers? (Source: RSPB 2014 annual review)

Or that of all poison abuse incidents reported in Scotland between 2005-2014, 81% of them took place on land managed for grouse and pheasant shooting? (Source: RSPB 2014 annual review)

Chairman Hogg also uses his column to whip up a spot of scaremongering (as was regurgitated by a gamekeeper’s wife in the Mail on Sunday last weekend) about the introduction of game shoot licensing claiming that “law abiding people will be at the mercy of the extreme fringe that want nothing other than grouse shooting stopped. For them, the removal of a few licences (and a few gamekeepers and their families) is a means to an end; a stepping stone“.

Why is licensing such a difficult concept to understand? If you break the terms of the licence, you get penalised. If you abide by the terms of the licence, you won’t get penalised. It’s really pretty simple. Perhaps by using the term ‘extreme fringe‘ Chairman Hogg is suggesting that gamekeepers will be ‘set up’ or framed. Has there ever been a case of this happening, where a gamekeeper has been wrongly convicted by the action of somebody else? We can’t think of one. Members of the ‘extreme fringe’, whoever they might be, have no need to ‘set up’ gamekeepers because gamekeepers keep on breaking the law all by themselves, time and time and time again.

To be fair, Chairman Hogg does have a point about all gamekeepers being tarred by the same brush. The reason this happens is because it’s virtually impossible for observers to distinguish between the law-abiding gamekeepers and the criminal gamekeepers. Even industry leaders don’t differentiate, so why should we? The criminals within the ranks are repeatedly shielded and protected by the game-shooting industry, until the point of conviction. Once they’re convicted, the leading organisations within the industry are put under strong public pressure to react, (e.g. a membership expulsion), but this is a fairly recent phenomenon and it doesn’t always happen (e.g. see here) and actually we’re still waiting for the SGA (and Scottish Land & Estates and Wildlife Estates Scotland) to comment on the membership status of convicted gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick who committed offences on the Newlands Estate in Dumfriesshire. We’ll come back to this case soon.

However, as everybody knows, convictions for raptor persecution are as rare as hens teeth (especially when the Crown Office refuses to accept what appears to be clear cut evidence of alleged crimes) and so the SGA and others within the industry spend their time concocting the most fantastical explanations for what might have happened to the crime victims (e.g. see here, here, here, here) instead of focusing on the blindingly obvious suspects. That isn’t going to earn Chairman Hogg et al any respect, and will simply engender the commonly-held view that many (not all) gamekeepers are nothing more than irredeemably archaic luddites.

Here are some top tips for earning back some respect:

  1. Stop killing raptors
  2. Er
  3. That’s it
17
Jul
17

There’s nothing ‘draconian’ about licensing game shooting estates

There were a couple of articles published in the Scottish Mail on Sunday yesterday about the possibility (probability) of the introduction of game shoot licensing in Scotland.

The first article didn’t bring anything new to the story; it was just a re-hashed version of who’s said what since Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a package of new measures to address the on-going problem of raptor persecution and unsustainable grouse moor management. Lord David Johnstone of Scottish Land & Estates talked about maintaining the status quo (i.e. no licensing scheme required), James Reynolds of RSPB Scotland talked about the necessity of introducing a licensing scheme because self-regulation by the grouse-shooting industry has failed, and an unnamed spokesman from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association talked about how licensing could have serious consequences for gamekeepers and their families. The two journalists who wrote the article described the Government’s proposed review as ‘the latest blow to landowners following draconian land reforms and the abolition of tax breaks’.

What ‘draconian land reforms’ are those, then? And why should multi-millionaire landowners, whose grouse moors are already subsidised by the public purse, be entitled to tax breaks?

Here’s a copy of the article, and for those who struggle to read it, here’s a PDF version so you can zoom in and increase the font size: MailonSunday1_July162017

The second article was a commentary column written by Carrieanne Conaghan, a gamekeeper’s wife who coordinates the ‘Speyside Moorland Group’ – one of several regional moorland groups closely affiliated with the Gift of Grouse propaganda campaign.

The headline begins: ‘As Draconian new land laws loom…’ These words probably weren’t Carrieanne’s but nevertheless, it’s clear from her commentary that estate licensing isn’t welcomed by gamekeepers because, she says, “For the vast majority of estates who have done nothing wrong and are resolute in their fight against wildlife crime, they would be penalised by strict new controls“.

Unfortunately she doesn’t explain why or how she things law-abiding estates would be “penalised by strict new controls“. The fact of the matter is, they wouldn’t be penalised at all, as the penalities would only be felt by those who continue to illegally kill protected raptors. And quite rightly so. Law-abiding gamekeepers, and their employers, have absolutely nothing to fear from the introduction of a licensing scheme, and you’d think they’d be welcoming it with open arms because if anything, it’ll protect them from being lumped in with the criminals.

Here’s the article and here it is as a PDF: MailOnSunday2_July162017

Carrieanne also claims that, “More worryingly, it [licensing] also brings the potential of gamekeepers losing their homes and livelihoods if a licence to operate was withdrawn“. This is just emotional scaremongering, probably encouraged by the same tosh spouted by SGA Chairman Alex Hogg earlier this year (see here). The only reason gamekeepers would potentially lose their homes and livelihoods would be if they’d broken the conditions of the licence and the subsequent withdrawal of that licence. That principle applies to everybody else in society whose activities are licensed. It’s the risk you run if, for example, you’re a professional driver and you commit road traffic offences leading to the loss of your driving licence. Why should gamekeepers be exempt from regulation when everyone else’s lives are governed by such rules?

Carrieanne claims that the licensing proposal has been brought about by “activists who object to the very existence of grouse moors, whether their opposition is based on a dislike of shooting or the ‘toffs’ who they believe are the only ones who participate“. Actually, the proposal was brought about by ordinary members of the public who are sick to the back teeth of criminal gamekeepers and their employers getting away with the illegal slaughter of protected wildlife, particularly on driven grouse moors.

Carrieanne claims that raptor persecution is “in decline” and that “tough new legislation has had a positive effect“. She also thinks, because her gamekeeper husband told her, that gamekeepers “desire to manage moorland for the interests of all species, whether it be grouse, ground-nesting birds, mountain hares or birds of prey“. Good grief.

She must have missed the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, the findings of which were the final straw for Roseanna Cunningham and which led directly to the current proposition of a licensing scheme. She must also have missed the news that the hen harrier population continues to spiral downwards, thanks in large part to illegal persecution, and the news that peregrine populations continue to decline in areas dominated by driven grouse moors, and the news that the northern red kite population continues to suffer from the impact of illegal persecution on driven grouse moors, and the news that five prosecutions for alleged wildlife crime (all involving gamekeepers or their employers) have all been dropped in recent months, and the news that raptors continue to be illegally shot, even in recent weeks (see here, here) or illegally trapped (see here) on grouse moors up and down the country.

Did anyone see any gamekeepers or any moorland groups condemning these incidents? Where was their uproar? Where was their outrage? How many gamekeepers or members of moorland groups have provided information/intelligence to the police about any of these recent crimes? We’ll take an educated guess – none of them.

Carrieanne is right to be concerned about her family’s livelihood, but it’s not at risk from a licensing scheme, which is neither draconian or unnecessary; it’s actually a long overdue and pretty measured response to decades of criminality and unsustainable practices. Carrieanne’s livelihood is only at risk from those criminal gamekeepers and their employers who refuse to reform and continue to stick up two fingers to the law.

UPDATE 25 July 2017: SRSG response letter here

25
Jun
17

Game shoot licensing discussed on BBC’s Landward programme today

Today’s edition of the BBC’s Landward programme had a small feature on proposals for the introduction of game shoot licensing, including contributions from Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and Lord David Johnstone (Scottish Land & Estates).

It is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 29 days (Episode 12, starts at 17 mins – here).

We’ve reproduced the full transcript:

Presenter, Euan Mcllwraith: “The majestic golden eagle, soaring above Scottish hills. It’s an iconic image of wild Scotland. But a Government report has found that almost a third of all golden eagles which have been tracked by satellite died in mysterious circumstances, and the majority of those cases were found on land which is managed for grouse shooting. And the demise of the golden eagles has kick-started a re-examination of the way that game shooting is managed.

Game shooting is a major contributor to the Scottish rural economy and supports jobs in rural areas. But the field sport relies on there being a large population of grouse to shoot. The report’s findings led Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham to propose an inquiry in to whether or not shooting estates should need a licence to operate.

But why would a licence protect eagles? Well at the moment, if a gamekeeper for example was caught killing a bird of prey, he might be prosecuted and in extreme cases be sent to jail, but the estate would still be allowed to carry on doing business. But the threat of a removal of a licence to operate could prove a more effective deterrent.

The proposal has delighted some groups and horrified others.

With me now are Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland and David Johnstone of Scottish Land & Estates.

Duncan, from your point of view, what’s the attraction of a licence, ‘cos there’s a lot of penalties at the moment, if a keeper gets convicted he goes to jail. Why a licence?”

Duncan Orr-Ewing: “Well, we very much welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s statement that she will look at options including a licensing system. The reason we support a licensing system is because we believe it will raise standards in the grouse moor sector in particular, which has a whole range of problems that have been highlighted in recent years and we think there is a need to reflect the public interest”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “David, from your point of view, you’re not in favour of licences. Why is that?”

David Johnstone: “There’s a number of reasons within that. There’s the SNH report that came out showing licensing going on around Europe, it clearly demonstrated that licensing, wildlife crime still exists in parts of Europe where licensing also takes place. But also we don’t think that it will actually be effective, we think that there are better ways of doing it that will lead to the higher standards that Duncan was talking about, creating good working relationships between ourselves and other stakeholders within, especially the Government”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “But is it not quite simple? If a nightclub has a licence, they break the rules, they go out of business. If a landowner on an estate was seen to be killing birds of prey, which does happen, you cease to have that right to run a business”.

David Johnstone: “This is a very, very different situation because within a nightclub, when a nightclub finishes business, the doors are shut and nobody else is allowed in to that nightclub at all, you control everything that’s going on. Within an estate on land in Scotland, under the 2003 Act, people have a right to roam anywhere, at any time, which we fully support, therefore you have people wandering across the land you’re managing, doing whatever they may wish to do and we have…”

Euan Mcllwraith: “Yeah, but people aren’t going to walk on to an estate and kill a bird, I mean it may happen, but the vast majority…”

David Johnstone: “I’m sorry but we have examples of people who have been interfering with legally set traps and everything else so it does happen, nefarious activity does go on, and that puts at risk people’s livelihood, their jobs, the economy, everything. You’ve got to prove you didn’t do something, as opposed to somebody proving that you did do something”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “Is that a real worry though? That an estate can go out of business, a vital part of the rural economy will cease to exist, on a very low level of proof?”

Duncan Orr-Ewing: “Look, we’re in this position because of a failure of self-regulation, despite repeated public warnings that the estate sector, particularly driven grouse moors, need to get their house in order. They have failed to deliver, that is why we’re at this point.

We believe a system of licensing can be developed, that has the right checks and balances in place, they do it in other countries, we imagine this won’t be done routinely….”

Euan Mcllwraith: “Duncan, David, I think this debate will rage for a long time to come. At the moment it’s in the hands of the Minister who will make a decision in the months and years to come”.

ENDS

When do you think Scottish Land & Estates will realise that the game’s up? That everybody, even the Scottish Government, now accepts the huge weight of evidence showing that illegal raptor persecution is undertaken as a matter of routine on many driven grouse moors?

Does David Johnstone honestly think that anybody is going to believe his inference that 41 satellite-tagged golden eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors as a result of ‘nefarious activity’ undertaken by random members of the public?

If he’s so sure of this (without any supporting evidence), then presumably SLE members won’t have any problem accepting the placement of monitoring cameras at raptor nest and roost sites on driven grouse moors? You’d think they’d welcome this measure, which would clear estate gamekeepers from the frame, right? It’s funny then that certain estates continue to refuse to participate in the placement of cameras by SNH’s Heads Up for Harriers project.

Lord Johnstone has used this tactic of blaming members of the public before, when objecting to the introduction of vicarious liability. In 2012 he was cited as saying there was a risk of estates being set up. Five years on, there hasn’t, as far as we are aware, been a single case of an estate being ‘set up’.

Johnstone talks about instances of interference with legally set traps as an example of ‘nefarious activity’. Yes, it does happen, although not as widely as the game-shooting industry claims (see here) and most, no, all of the examples that we’ve seen show vandalism of the trap (thus rendering it inoperable) as opposed to some random person placing illegally-set traps (e.g. pole traps, as pictured above (RSPB photo)) to infer guilt on the estate gamekeepers.

We should really be congratulating whoever is responsible for SLE’s media strategy (‘deny, deny, deny’) because the longer SLE and the grouse-shooting industry takes to accept responsibility, or continues to blame it on others, the more idiotic, the more complicit, and the more incapable of self-regulation, they look, and then the quicker a licensing regime will be imposed.

Former police wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart wrote a blog recently about the grouse shooting industry’s refusal to accept responsibility for raptor persecution and specifically about SLE’s Moorland Director Tim (Kim) Baynes’ accusations against so-called ‘extremists’ (that’ll be us) for ‘derailing progress’. It’s well worth a read – here.

22
Jun
17

Edradynate Estate gamekeeper in court for alleged crop poisoning

Well this is absolutely fascinating.

From the Courier & Advertiser (Perth & Perthshire edition), 22 June 2017:

Gamekeeper in court over estate crop poisoning allegation.

A senior gamekeeper has appeared at Perth Sheriff Court accused of poisoning crops on a Perthshire estate. David Campbell was working on the Edradynate Estate, near Aberfeldy, when he is said to have committed the offence.

A charge alleges he maliciously damaged the crops between April 14 and 16 this year by spraying them with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish. The 69 year old is also said to have stolen a thermal imaging spotting scope.

He made a brief appearance on petition before Sheriff William Wood at Perth Sheriff Court and made no plea or declaration. Campbell had his case continued. He was released on bail.

ENDS

You might be wondering why we’re blogging about this? The simple answer – we are very interested in the Edradynate Estate and have been for a long time as it has repeatedly been at the centre of police wildlife crime investigations (particularly the alleged poisoning of birds of prey) although nobody has ever been convicted.

Most recently (May 2017) our interest has been in relation to the Crown Office’s refusal to prosecute an unnamed Edradynate gamekeeper for alleged offences relating to the poisoning of several buzzards, despite a plea from Police Scotland to proceed (see here). The Crown Office has not provided an explanation about why this decision was taken (video evidence was not involved), other than to say:

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

As the alleged wildlife crime offences took place in 2015, the case will not become time barred until June 2018 so there may still be a prosecution, although we won’t be holding our breath given the Crown Office’s recent performances in this area (five cases of alleged wildlife crime dropped in the space of two months).

It’s ironic then, that an Edradynate Estate gamekeeper (although we understand this particular gamekeeper left Edradynate at the end of Jan 2017, despite what was reported in the Courier) has been charged with an alleged poisoning offence – not of a protected raptor species, but of a crop. That in itself is fascinating, but even more interesting is that this charge is deemed sufficiently serious for the Crown (prosecutors) to begin proceedings by petition (before deciding whether to prosecute on indictment or by summary complaint). Only serious cases are begun by petition.

We’ll be tracking this case with great interest.

Please note: if you decide to comment on this specific blog, please remember that this case and the alleged wildlife crime offences from 2015 are still ‘live’ and at this stage the offences are only alleged. Please think carefully about your choice of words. Thanks.

15
Jun
17

Law professor comments on inadmissibility of video evidence in wildlife crime prosecutions

As regular blog readers will be aware, the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), the public prosecutors in Scotland, have, in the space of two months, either dropped or refused to prosecute five cases of alleged wildlife crime. These include:

25 March 2017 – gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough (Dalreoch Estates), accused of the alleged use of illegal gin traps. Prosecution dropped due to paperwork blunder by Crown Office.

11 April 2017 – landowner Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate), accused of being allegedly vicariously liable for the actions of his gamekeeper who had earlier been convicted for killing a buzzard by stamping on it and dropping rocks on to it. Prosecution dropped due to ‘not being in the public interest’.

21 April 2017 – gamekeeper Stanley Gordon (Cabrach Estate), accused of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

25 April 2017 – gamekeeper Craig Graham (Brewlands Estate), accused of allegedly setting and re-setting an illegal pole trap. Prosecution dropped as video evidence deemed inadmissible.

21 May 2017 – an unnamed 66 year old gamekeeper (Edradynate Estate), suspected of alleged involvement with the poisoning of three buzzards. Crown Office refused to prosecute, despite a plea to do so by Police Scotland.

Two of these cases (Cabrach Estate and Brewlands Estate) were dropped due to the COPFS deciding that the use of RSPB video evidence, on which the prosecutions relied, was inadmissible.

There has been widespread public condemnation and political concern about these decisions, especially in the case of the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in Morayshire. The Crown Office has attempted to explain the decisions but many questions remain unanswered for those of us who don’t have the legal expertise, or all the case details, to challenge the COPFS decisions.

We read with interest, then, a blog that was published yesterday written by Peter Duff, Professor of Criminal Justice at Aberdeen University. His blog, entitled ‘The law of evidence, video footage, and wildlife conservation: did COPFS make the correct decisions?‘ deals specifically with the Cabrach & Brewlands cases and can be read here.

We thoroughly recommend reading it. It’s important to read the perspective of an independent, expert academic who has no axe to grind on either side of the debate. It’s hard for those of us who are either tainted by years of frustration about criminal raptor killers getting away with it, or those with a vested interest in raptor killers avoiding prosecution, to take an unbiased view of the law and its application, so Professor Duff’s opinion is a valuable contribution to the debate. Not only that, it’s great to see this issue receiving wider coverage than the usual commentators.

That’s not to say we agree with his interpretation though! In short, Professor Duff concludes that the COPFS decisions were “perfectly reasonable”, and he explains his reasoning for this, but, crucially, some of what he writes does not take in to account previous case law on this issue, perhaps because he was unaware of such cases?

For example, Professor Duff states: ” In my view also, for what it is worth, I agree that the courts would not excuse such an irregularity in obtaining the video evidence and prosecutions would be fruitless“.

First of all, the Scottish courts HAVE excused the irregularity of obtaining video evidence without the landowner’s permission and far from those prosecutions being ‘fruitless’, they actually resulted in the conviction of the accused (e.g. see the Marshall trial here and the Mutch trial here).

During the Marshall trial, there were several hours of legal argument about the admissibility of the video evidence. The Sheriff accepted the video evidence, commenting that the RSPB presence on the gamekeeper’s estate [from where the video was filmed] was “neither illegal nor irregular, and the intent to obtain evidence did not make it so“.  This is no different to the recent Cabrach case.

During the Mutch trial, again involving several hours of legal argument about the admissibility of evidence, the Sheriff accepted that the RSPB had not placed the video camera with the purpose of gathering evidence for prosecution, but they had placed it as part of a legitimate survey in to the use of traps. This is no different to the recent Cabrach case.

There is also an on-going trial at the moment (concerning alleged fox hunting) that relies heavily on video evidence filmed on privately-owned land without the landowner’s permission. The court has accepted the video evidence as admissible (although we can’t comment too much on this as the trial is still live).

So on that basis, we profoundly disagree with Professor Duff’s opinion that covertly filmed video evidence would not be accepted by the Scottish courts. It already has been, on several occasions, resulting in convictions. The question remains then, why did the COPFS decide it was inadmissible? Somebody within the Crown Office (presumably an experienced lawyer from with the Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit) decided, when this case was first marked, that the video evidence was admissible. It took nine court hearings over a period of a year before the COPFS decided that the video evidence was inadmissible. We still don’t know the basis for that decision. And the other related question to this is why didn’t the COPFS let the court make the decision? It’s this inconsistency of approach that has caused so much confusion, and as Professor Duff writes, ‘bewilderment’.

Professor Duff also writes: “The actions by the RSPB [of placing a covert camera] are a breach of the right to privacy of both the estate owners and their employees (whilst not quite analogous, imagine if your neighbour installed a secret camera to record everything that went on in your garden)“. Sorry, but it’s quite absurd to compare these two scenarios given the size difference between these two types of landholdings. Nobody could argue that placing a covert camera to film somebody’s back garden wouldn’t be a breach of privacy, as you’d reasonably expect to see the human occupants on a daily basis. But on a multi-thousand acre estate, far from any private dwelling? Come on, “not quite analogous” is one hell of an understatement. And not only that, in the Cabrach case, the camera was aimed at the nest of Schedule 1 hen harrier, which by law cannot be approached/disturbed without an appropriate licence from SNH so you wouldn’t expect to film anybody anywhere near the nest.

All in all then, Professor Duff’s interpretation of the law, whilst useful, still doesn’t explain, or justify, the decisions made by the Crown Office in these two cases.

And questions still remain about the decisions to drop the other three cases (gamekeeper John Charles Goodenough of Dalreoch Estates; landowner Andrew Duncan of Newlands Estate; an unnamed gamekeeper of Edradynate Estate), none of which were reliant upon video evidence.




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