Posts Tagged ‘pole trap

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)

25
Apr
17

Crown Office drops third prosecution in two weeks

Two weeks ago, we blogged about how the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS – the public prosecutors in Scotland) had dropped a long-running vicarious liability prosecution against landowner Andrew Duncan, who was alleged to have been vicariously liable for the crimes of his gamekeeper, who had killed a buzzard on the Newlands Estate in 2014. When pressed for a reason behind the decision to drop the vicarious liability case, the Crown Office said it was “not in the public interest to continue” but did not provide any further detail of how, or why, that decision had been reached (see here).

Ten days later, we learned that the COPFS had dropped another long-running prosecution, this time against gamekeeper Stanley Gordon who was alleged to have shot a hen harrier on the Cabrach Estate in 2012. No explanation was given for this decision.

And now today, we have learned that the COPFS have dropped another long-running prosecution, this time against Angus Glens gamekeeper Craig Graham who was alleged to have set and re-set an illegal pole trap on the Brewlands Estate in 2015. Again, no explanation has been given for this decision.

That’s three high profile prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution crimes, dropped within a two week period, with no explanation why.

One long-running case being dropped would raise an eyebrow; a second long-running case dropped a few days later would cause concern, but three long-running cases, all dropped within a fortnight, all on the eve of an actual trial? That is highly suspicious, even for the most unassuming observer.

Was it incompetence on the part of the COPFS? That is surely a possibility, especially as each of these cases has been running for months, at huge cost to the public purse. Why did it take so long to decide to abandon each case? Was it an issue with video evidence? We’ve been there before, although we’ve also seen successful prosecutions based on video evidence. If it was an issue with video admissibility (and we don’t yet know if it was, so this is just speculation), why did it take so long to reach that decision and anyway, wouldn’t admissibility be an issue for the court to decide, not the prosecutor? Was there another reason for discontinuing these cases? We don’t know, because the Crown Office is saying nothing.

Whatever it was, the discontinuing of these three cases will cause huge damage to public confidence in the Scottish criminal justice system. What do you have to do to get someone to stand trial for alleged raptor persecution in Scotland? We know how difficult it is to identify a named suspect, and we know that the evidential threshold is set extraordinarily high for this sort of crime, so when you do manage to secure enough evidence to charge and then prosecute somebody, it is massively frustrating to (a) see the cases dropped and (b) not be told why.

What is clear amongst all this murkiness is that the current system is not fit for purpose. This series of discontinued prosecutions just adds more grist to the mill for the introduction of a licensing system, and for basing that system on the civil burden of proof.

Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to the release of the video footage……

13
Apr
17

Remember those illegal pole traps found set on Mossdale Estate?

Remember those three illegally-set pole traps that were found on the Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park last year? (Photo: RSPB)

You know, the ones where a Mossdale Estate gamekeeper was filmed by the RSPB as he re-set them on posts on the grouse moor? (Photo: RSPB)

Yes, the gamekeeper who escaped with a police caution after a procedural blunder, instead of facing a full blown prosecution.

Well, guess what? Two of those traps had been used previously to illegally catch birds. How do we know? Because when those traps were seized from the Mossdale Estate, sharp-eyed and forensically-aware RSPB investigators suspected that they’d been used for trapping other birds. The traps were sent for expert examination at the Wildlife Forensics Unit at the SASA labs near Edinburgh and tests revealed the presence of kestrel DNA on one trap, and DNA from another (unidentified) falcon species on the other. (Photo: Guy Shorrock)

Unfortunately a prosecution was not possible as it wasn’t known where the traps had been used previously, when they’d been used, and by whom.

You can read more about this, and other DNA cases, on a fascinating RSPB Investigations blog written by Guy Shorrock and published earlier this afternoon (here).

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.

17
Mar
17

Update on illegally-set traps on Glendye grouse moor

Two months ago we blogged about a series of illegally-set traps that had been photographed on the grouse moor of Glendye Estate in Aberdeenshire (see here).

We, and many of you (thank you) passed on the information to the local Police Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer, PC Doug Darling in the hope that an investigation might take place. We contacted him again a few days ago and asked if he was able to provide an update on this case.

He told us that an enquiry had been carried out in the area the day after the incident had been reported to the police, but no illegally-set traps had been found.

The person who had taken the photographs and published them on a blog was then contacted by the police, to learn as much as possible about the incident (how the traps were set, whether any baits had been seen etc).

The police then visited the Estate Factor and the gamekeeper, who were in possession of the traps as they had been informed of the incident by the original witness. PC Darling told us: “They took it upon themselves to remove the traps in case something were to become caught and denied knowing whose traps they were and how they came to be found on the estate set in an illegal manor [sic]”.

That’s interesting. What would you do if you were working in the land management sector and a member of the public told you they’d found illegally-set traps on your land? Wouldn’t you leave the evidence in place and immediately notify the police?

Anyway, PC Darling went on: “Given we have no physical evidence it would not be possible to report the incident to the Procurator Fiscal however Scottish Natural Heritage are aware of the incident and we will be discussing any other measures we could pursue given the circumstances“.

Presumably ‘any other measures’ would include SNH putting a General Licence restriction order on this Estate, because according to SNH guidelines, evidence which may be considered by SNH in any decision to impose a General Licence restriction includes:

Illegal placement, design or use of traps or methods that are not in compliance with the requirements of the General Licence‘.

We’ll see if that happens because of course much still depends on the findings of the judicial review, which examined the process SNH used to impose a General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate back in 2015. The court’s decision has not yet been announced, at least not in public.

This case highlights something we discussed yesterday when blogging about the pine marten that had been caught in a spring trap on another grouse shooting estate in Scotland (see here). If every trap had to carry a unique police-issued number identifying the registered trap-user, then this investigation might have ended with a better result. As happens over and over again, whoever set these traps has escaped being held to account for their criminal activities.

PC Darling deserves full credit here. Not only did he launch an investigation the day after being alerted to these traps, he then followed up with the witness and paid a visit to those responsible for managing the land, and he was also very quick and willing to explain what had happened when asked about this case. What a breath of fresh air. His actions will inspire confidence for anyone else thinking about reporting a suspected wildlife crime in this region, rather than the brick wall we’ve become accustomed to expect from Police Scotland. Let’s hope his senior officers take note and applaud his efforts as much as we do.

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.




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