Posts Tagged ‘goshawk

30
Aug
19

No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate

Ten days ago Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson was sentenced for a catalogue of wildlife crime offences, including possession of the banned poison Carbofuran and the shooting of protected raptors, badgers and an otter on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders (see here).

[Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson, photo by Daily Record]

Very early on in this case we were aware that two individuals had been charged in relation to the crimes uncovered at Longformacus Estate (see here) and it was rumoured that the second man was facing a charge of alleged vicarious liability for Wilson’s crimes, although we were unable to verify this.

As a quick re-cap, vicarious liability was a measure introduced by the Scottish Government on 1 January 2012 as a direct and specific response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution, whereby somebody (e.g. a landowner or a sporting agent) may be held responsible for the criminal actions of an employee – see here for a more detailed explanation.

Following Wilson’s conviction and then subsequent sentencing earlier this month, we were keen to find out whether the Crown Office was now pursuing a charge of alleged vicarious liability against any individual associated with the management of Longformacus Estate. Last week we wrote to the Crown Office for clarification and this is the response received yesterday:

So, here we are yet again.

No prosecution for anyone associated with the management of Longformacus Estate where gamekeeper Alan Wilson was able to commit crime after crime after crime after crime, apparently without his boss(es) noticing.

For a defence of a charge of alleged vicarious liability, the gamekeeper’s boss(es) would need to show that (a) s/he/they did not know the offence was being committed; AND (b) that s/he/they took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence(s) being committed. Without knowing the full facts and circumstances of this case it is impossible for us to judge whether the Crown Office’s decision not to pursue a charge was sensible, but it has to be said that given the extent and duration of Wilson’s criminal activities, it would have been very interesting indeed to have heard his bosses’ interpretation and explanation of ‘all due diligence’.

We’ll probably never know why the Crown Office chose not to proceed – it is under no obligation to offer any explanation to the public. However, this latest decision really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody – remember, this is the same Crown Office that dropped five prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution in quick succession in 2017 (see here), even including several cases where RSPB video footage had captured the crimes on camera! Those decisions not to proceed with prosecutions hailed the start of what has now become complete exasperation at the authorities’ failure to take on many cases linked to wildlife crime on game-shooting estates.

The Crown’s decision not to pursue criminal proceedings in relation to the crimes committed at Longformacus Estate also further entrenches the view that vicarious liability as a measure for tackling ongoing raptor persecution is a resounding failure. Introduced seven and a half years ago on 1 Jan 2012, only two successful prosecutions have been secured: one in Dec 2014 (here) and one in Dec 2015 (here). A third case in Oct 2015 was dropped because the authorities couldn’t identify the estate’s management structure (here) and a fourth case was abandoned in April 2017 because the Crown said ‘it wasn’t in the public interest to continue’ (here).

Who thinks that two successful cases in 7.5 years is a measure of success? Perhaps if raptor persecution crimes weren’t still being committed then vicarious liability might have been viewed as a success in terms of its deterrent value but it’s quite clear, given the ongoing reports of persecution, that landowners and sporting agents are probably increasingly confident of evading prosecution and the Crown’s decision on the Longformacus Estate will only strengthen that view.

The question now is, for how many more years do we have to sit and watch the pathetic failure of vicarious liability as a measure to combat raptor persecution? The Scottish Government can no longer rely on this as an indication of its commitment to tackling these crimes. Sure, when introduced in 2012 it was done in good faith and with the best of intentions but it is quite clear for all to see that, for whatever reason, it isn’t working, and the Scottish Government needs to acknowledge this failure and find out why it’s failing and get it fixed.

It’s not just convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson sticking up two fingers to our law-abiding society.

The topic of vicarious liability was raised at the recent SNP Conference Fringe meeting on grouse moor reform (here) as well as the Revive Coalition’s conference in Perth (here) and caused quite a stir amongst delegates and panellists at both events. It’s an issue we’re likely to follow up with several interested MSPs.

Meanwhile, Chris Packham’s petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is doing exceptionally well, just two weeks after launching. It has now attracted over 81,000 signatures but is likely to fall if it doesn’t reach 100,000 signatures by Sept 9th, thanks to the current shenanigans at Westminster (if Parliament is suspended all unfinished business, including live petitions, will fall). If you haven’t yet signed, please do so HERE. Thank you.

 

19
Aug
19

Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson

In July this year, Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, then 60, pleaded guilty to nine of 12 charges of wildlife crime at Henlaw Wood on Longformacus Estate in the Borders (see here).

[Convicted wildlife criminal Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Photo by ITV Border]

Wilson’s crimes included the shooting and killing of two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2016 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of setting 23 illegal snares and possession of two bottles of the highly toxic (and banned pesticide) Carbofuran (see here).

[SSPCA photos]

Following Wilson’s guilty plea, the Sheriff adjourned sentencing for a few weeks to allow reports to be submitted.

Soon after his conviction, Scottish Land & Estates issued a statement of condemnation and claimed the Longformacus Estate was being managed for low ground pheasant shooting but in its desperation to avoid any bad publicity of grouse moor management, completely failed to mention that part of the estate was also managed as a grouse moor. Here’s a photograph of Henlaw Wood (now felled) and its proximity to the grouse moor:

[Original photo by Richard Webb; additional text by RPUK]

Alan Wilson, now 61, was sentenced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court this afternoon. Astonishingly (or not!), despite his litany of violent crimes against protected raptors and mammals which easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, Wilson has dodged jail, has dodged a fine, and instead has been issued with a 10-month curfew and an instruction to carry out 225 hours of unpaid work as part of a Community Payback Scheme. His firearms and other equipment was confiscated (it’s not clear for how long).

This monumentally inadequate sentence is in no way a reflection of the severity or extent of Wilson’s crimes, nor does it offer a suitable deterrent for other would-be offenders. According to this article in the Guardian by Sev Carrell, Sheriff Peter Paterson acknowledged that Wilson’s offending warranted a custodial sentence but said that as the Wildlife & Countryside Act only allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish Ministers had recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months, he felt he had no choice but to impose a different sentence.

This doesn’t make sense to us. Sure, the W&CA does, currently, impose a limit of six months but that’s six months per offence, so in Wilson’s case, where he had pleaded guilty to multiple offences, this would have amounted to much more than one six-month sentence and so in our opinion, he should have received a custodial sentence. We don’t know if this sentence will be appealed by the Crown Office – it must first be satisfied that the sentence was unduly lenient (e.g. see here). We’ll have to wait and see.

What is absolutely crystal clear is that the Scottish Government needs to get on and implement the penalty increases for wildlife crimes that it agreed to do way back in 2016.

This is Wilson’s second conviction in relation to offences at Longformacus Estate: in February 2018 he was sentenced to a £400 fine and disqualified from keeping birds of prey for ten years after he was convicted of animal welfare offences in relation to an Eagle Owl he had kept in appalling conditions (see here).

We don’t know whether Wilson’s employer (which may be a landowner or a sporting agent) will face a charge of alleged vicarious liability. We know that two individuals were originally charged with alleged offences at Longformacus Estate (e.g. see here) but we don’t yet have any more details. We will be following up on this and will report here if there is news. [Please note: if you are commenting on this aspect of the crimes at Longformacus Estate, remember there is a potential defence to any allegation of vicarious liability – Wilson’s employer is not automatically guilty just because he was Wilson’s employer].

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has, after months of refusing to comment, now finally admitted that Wilson was indeed an SGA member when he committed these wildlife crimes. Here is the SGA statement posted today:

We’ll be discussing Wilson’s SGA membership in a later post.

It is not clear to us whether the Longformacus Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates. So far SLE hasn’t issued a statement about today’s sentencing. Instead, it’s website is leading with an article with the unfortunate headline, ‘Making it Happen’.

More on this soon.

It only remains to acknowledge the huge efforts of all those involved in detecting, investigating and prosecuting this case. This successful conviction was the result of genuine partnership working between the League Against Cruel Sports, Scottish SPCA, RSPB Scotland, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, along with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, SASA, and veterinary pathologists from Scottish Agricultural College. Well done and thanks to all those involved in exposing this filthy criminal activity on yet another grouse moor.

Wildlife crime is endemic on many grouse moors. We see it over and over again and we also see the offenders escape justice time and time again. If you’d like to help bring it to an end, please consider signing this new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – PLEASE SIGN HERE

UPDATE 30 August 2019: No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate (here).

24
Jul
19

How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson?

We’ve been watching with interest how the game-shooting industry has reacted to the news that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson has pleaded guilty to nine wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in south Scotland.

We are especially interested to find out whether (a) Wilson is/was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association when he committed his crimes against protected wildlife and if so, whether he’s been booted out, and (b) whether the Longformacus Estate is/was a member of Scottish Land & Estates when these wildlife crimes took place, and if so, whether the estate has since been booted out.

It turns out that both the SGA and SLE are being a bit coy about this information.

First up, here’s the full statement from the SGA in response to Wilson’s guilty plea for multiple criminal offences:

It’s not very impressive, even though it took the SGA 24 hours to come up with it!

No mention, then, of the exceptionally high number of wildlife crimes.

No mention, then, of the number of protected species that had been shot illegally, including birds of prey, badgers and an otter.

No mention, then, of the 23 illegally set snares.

No mention, then, of the two containers of a highly toxic and banned poison (Carbofuan) that had been found.

And no mention, then, that it was a Scottish gamekeeper who was responsible for this disgraceful litany of wildlife crimes.

Moving on, here’s what Scottish Land & Estates posted:

It’s a bit of an odd choice of photograph to illustrate the piece – that’s Lord David Johnstone, Chairman of SLE; it’s not criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson. You might have thought SLE would choose an image of one of the protected species that had been illegally shot, or a poison skull & crossbones, or perhaps even an image of the location, a bit like this one:

[Photo by Richard Webb]

Ah, but hang on a minute, using a photo like this one to illustrate SLE’s statement wouldn’t have worked because look, what’s that behind the wood? Is it the tell-tale strip muirburn indicative of a grouse moor?

Ah, that’s a bit awkward seeing as SLE’s statement doesn’t mention grouse moor management, only low ground pheasant shooting – perhaps a deliberate omission? Surely not.

To be fair, the hill in the background is part of a neighbouring estate (Kettleshiel Farm), although if you look at a satellite image of the area it’s pretty clear that there’s also strip muirburn on Longformacus Estate, right up to the edge of Henlaw Wood where all those shot protected species were uncovered: [UPDATE 9pm: According to a comment from Professor Ian Poxton, all the land shown in the above and below photos, including the grouse moor hill, belonged to Longformacus Estate at least up to a couple of years ago – see comments section for more details]:

So it looks very much like there is a combination of both low ground pheasant shooting and grouse moor management on Longformacus Estate – how odd that SLE would appear to want to only mention the pheasant shooting and not the grouse moor management.

Actually, it’s not odd at all – they tried the same trick when golden eagle Fred ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances next to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh, playing down the prevalence of grouse moor management in the area.

Hmm, can’t begin to imagine why SLE might want grouse moor management out of the spotlight.

Anyway, back to SLE’s statement – at least it includes the fact that a gamekeeper has been convicted of wildlife crime – that’s a definite improvement on the SGA’s pathetic statement, but rather tellingly, SLE’s statement doesn’t mention whether Longformacus Estate is a member of SLE but does seem to want to demonstrate support for the estate. How interesting.

As we’ve said previously, as we understand it there is an ongoing police investigation in to whether gamekeeper Alan Wilson’s employer may face a potential charge of alleged vicarious liability, but we don’t know any more detail. We don’t even know if that would be the landowner or whether there’s a ‘middle-man’ involved such as a sporting agent.

We’ll have to wait and see, although it’s interesting to note that back in August 2018, Police Scotland issued a statement that said two men had been charged in relation to this case (see here).

23
Jul
19

Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson & his litany of wildlife crimes

Further to the news yesterday that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 60, had pleaded guilty to nine of the 12 charges of wildlife crime against him (see here), here is some further detail.

From The Times (by Robert Fairburn):

Gamekeeper killed protected birds, badger and otter

A gamekeeper shot dead badgers and buzzards and set dozens of illegal snares in Scottish woodland in what one wildlife expert described as the greatest cull of protected species he had ever seen.

Alan Wilson, 60, has pleaded guilty to priming 23 illegal snares in a small wood on the Berwickshire estate where he worked. A court was told that the League Against Cruel Sports had been tipped off by a member of the public out hiking that snares were being operated at Henlaw Wood on the Longformacus Estate.

[RPUK map of the location of Longformacus Estate]

In March 2016 a research officer found snares and a “stink pit” containing a pile of dead animals designed to attract other animals. A year later he returned and found the carcass of a badger and dead birds.

The site was visited by police officers and Scottish SPCA officers when the full catalogue of shot protected species emerged.

David Anderson, conservation manager for the Forestry Commission Scotland, attended Henlaw Wood, which is 550 metres in length, and wrote in his report: “In 40 years working in wildlife management I have never seen so many protected species dead in such a small area.”

Jedburgh sheriff court was told that Wilson was the sole gamekeeper for the Longformacus estate. He had worked as a gamekeeper in France for ten years before returning to Scotland and lived on the estate with his partner.

Wilson pleaded guilty to shooting and killing two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2006 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of using illegal snares and possession of two bottles of carbofuran.

Wilson was fined £400 last year and banned from keeping birds of prey for ten years after admitting failing to protect an eagle owl in his care from suffering. He had pleaded guilty to keeping the pet bird in filthy conditions in a pigsty at his home in Longformacus [see here for RPUK blog on that case].

Wilson admitted nine offences and will be sentenced next month [19th August we believe] after background reports are prepared. Sheriff Peter Paterson told him: “These charges are serious and numerous and before I decide on an appropriate sentence I will need a report to see what sentencing options are open to me. Society, whatever you may think, takes a dim view on this.”

There has been growing debate about Scotland’s grouse moors. Chris Packham, the naturalist and broadcaster, has urged ministers to introduce a strict licensing system on moors, with powers to ban shooting estates where protected species are vanishing. A Scottish government review of grouse moor practices is expected to be published within weeks.

ENDS

It’ll be all eyes on Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 19th August when this criminal gamekeeper is sentenced. We believe the custody threshold has been easily met and given the range of offences against these protected species, in addition to being found in possession of the highly toxic (and thus banned) pesticide Carbofuran, only a custodial sentence will suffice.

There have been questions asked about Wilson’s employer and whether a charge of alleged vicarious liability is being pursued. We believe there is currently a live investigation on this and as such we won’t be blogging about it, or accepting comments specifically about it, until proceedings have concluded.

The conviction of gamekeeper Alan Wilson can now be discussed, however. We look forward to finding out whether he is/was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and if so, how they explain his appetite for illegally killing protected raptors and mammals, why he was setting illegal snares and why he had two bottles of Carbofuran in his possession.

Presumably the SGA knew nothing of Wilson’s crimes, which begs the question, how can the SGA make so many claims about the number of supposedly law-abiding gamekeepers when they haven’t got a clue what those gamekeepers are up to, nor do they have sufficient influence to prevent them committing wildlife crimes?

Over to you, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg…..

Previous blogs about this case: herehere here  here herehere, here, here, here here.

UPDATE: 24 July 2019: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson? (see here).

 

22
Jul
19

Scottish gamekeeper pleads guilty to nine charges of wildlife crime

BREAKING NEWS…..

We understand from a journalist that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 60, has this morning pleaded guilty to 9 of the 12 wildlife crime charges against him. Not guilty pleas were accepted on the other three.

Sentencing has apparently been deferred until 19th August for background reports.

Wilson had been accused of shooting two goshawks, four buzzards, a peregrine falcon, three badgers and an otter at Henlaw Wood, Longformacus, between March 2016 and May 2017.

He also faced charges of using a snare likely to cause partial suspension of animal or drowning, failing to produce snaring records within 21 days when requested to do so by police and no certificate for an air weapon.

We also understand he faced a charge of alleged possession of the banned poison Carbofuran.

Up until this morning Mr Wilson had pleaded not guilty.

More details to follow……

Previous blogs about this case: herehere here  here herehere, here, here and here.

UPDATE 23 July 2019: Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson and his litany of wildlife crimes (here)

UPDATE 24 July 2019: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson? (here).

14
Jun
19

Case against Scottish gamekeeper accused of 12 alleged wildlife crimes: trial adjourned

Two years on, and the trial against Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, who is accused of committing 12 alleged wildlife crimes, has been adjourned before it even started.

Mr Wilson, 60, is accused of shooting two goshawks, four buzzards, a peregrine falcon, three badgers and an otter at Henlaw Wood, Longformacus, between March 2016 and May 2017.

He also faces charges of using a snare likely to cause partial suspension of an animal or drowning, failing to produce snaring records within 21 days when requested to do so by police and no certificate for an air weapon.

We also believe he is accused of the alleged possession of the banned pesticide, Carbofuran.

Mr Wilson pleaded not guilty to all charges at an earlier hearing in May and his trial was due to begin yesterday (13th June 2019) at Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

For reasons unknown to us, the trial has been adjourned. We don’t yet know if it will be rescheduled and if so, when that might be.

Previous blogs about this case: see herehere here  here herehere and here

Please note: we will not be accepting comments on this news item until legal proceedings have concluded. Thanks.

13
May
19

Injured goshawk found in Peak District National Park had previously been shot

This has been reported a bit messily but essentially the bottom line is that an x-ray of an injured goshawk found in the Peak District National Park last winter has revealed it had been previously shot.

The bird, initially mistaken as a peregrine, was first reported injured by a Derbyshire Police Wildlife Crime Officer on social media in November 2018:

According to this news report, the x-ray didn’t reveal any problems and the cause of the bird’s wing injury was unknown. Although according to this blog from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, the x-ray showed a small piece of shot, but with no entry or exit wound this was determined to have been the result of an earlier shooting at an unknown time and location.

Last week Derbyshire Police provided a further update on social media, six months on:

As we’ve previously reported (e.g. here), goshawks (and several other raptor species, especially peregrines and hen harriers) have been struggling in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park for several decades due to on-going illegal persecution.




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