Posts Tagged ‘Ross-shire Massacre

18
Mar
17

Ross-shire Massacre: three years on

Today marks the three year anniversary of the mass poisoning of red kites and buzzards at Conon Bridge in the Scottish Highlands – a crime that became known as the Ross-shire Massacre.

A total of 22 dead raptors (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) were discovered in a small geographic area over a number of weeks, beginning on 18 March 2014. Toxicology tests confirmed that 16 of these raptors (12 red kites and 4 buzzards) had been poisoned with a banned substance. Police Scotland has so far refused to name the poison, ‘for operational reasons’.

Nobody has ever been charged in connection with this crime.

Under Scottish law, there is a three year time limit for bringing a prosecution for offences committed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (in England the time limit is two years). The clock starts ticking from the date the offence was commissioned. Three years later, the case becomes ‘time barred’ and even if the culprit is identified after this date, a prosecution under the Wildlife & Countryside Act is not possible.

We’ve been waiting for this three-year anniversary to arrive because we’ve got quite a bit to say about this case, particularly the police investigation, but we’ve been unable to publish these comments while the case was still considered ‘live’. Once the three-year anniversary was reached, we expected to be able to write a blog about the string of police cock-ups without worrying about legal restrictions and compromising the investigation.

However, it has been suggested to us that the three-year time bar may not take effect until the third anniversary of the last dead bird’s discovery, rather than the third anniversary of the actual poisoning offence. This seems a bit of a stretch to us (we believe there was only one poisoning offence, on 18 March 2014, not a series of them) but, as we’re not lawyers, we need to tread carefully and err on the side of caution.

We’re not entirely certain of the date the last dead raptor was found at Conon Bridge, although we blogged about it on 26 April 2014. Because of this uncertainty, we will not be blogging about this case until early May, just to be absolutely sure that we’re not compromising any chance of someone being prosecuted for this crime (yes, highly unlikely, we know, but we have to play the game or face a charge of contempt).

More in May. In the meantime, for anyone who wants to read what we’ve previously written about this fiasco, click here and scroll through the pages.

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30
Jan
17

Mass poisoning of raptors in Ross-shire to feature at film festival in New York

In March 2014, 22 red kites and buzzards were illegally poisoned in Ross-shire, in an incident that became known as the Ross-shire Massacre.

This shocking crime drew wide public attention and revulsion, leading to public protests in Inverness town centre.

Rossshire Massacre film

In 2015, film-maker Lisa Marley produced a short but beautifully evocative film about the crime and the subsequent police investigation.

Her film, Red Sky on the Black Isle, will feature at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival taking place in October 2017 in New York. Good stuff. The more international exposure that can be given to the illegal persecution of birds of prey throughout the UK, the better.

As we approach the third anniversary of the Ross-shire Massacre, when the case becomes time-barred (meaning that a prosecution is no longer possible), we will be blogging about some aspects of this case that, for legal reasons, we’ve been unable to publish before now. More in March….

18
Mar
16

Ross-shire Massacre: two years on

nothingSo, it’s been two years since 22 dead birds of prey were discovered in a small area around Conon Bridge in the Highlands. It was one of the most significant illegal raptor persecution crimes ever uncovered in the UK.

Are we any closer to finding the culprit(s)? Of course not. Here’s what we do know:

  1. 22 dead raptors (16 red kites + 6 buzzards) were found in the same small area over a period of weeks in March/April 2014.
  2. Sixteen of those raptors were later confirmed poisoned: 12 red kites + 4 buzzards.
  3. No cause of death has been given for the other six victims.
  4. The poison used was a banned substance.
  5. Nobody has been arrested.
  6. Nobody has been charged.
  7. Nobody has been convicted.

According to a ridiculous Police Scotland press statement, these birds “were most likely not targeted deliberately but instead were the victims of pest control measures“. Quite how they’d know this without having spoken to a known culprit is anybody’s guess (see here) and until they do, that’s all their conclusion can be, a guess.

The police are still withholding the name of the poison used – we’re told this is ‘for operational purposes’. We’re also told that this is still ‘a live investigation’.

What it actually is is a shambles and it has been from the start.

The first six dead birds were discovered between 18-24 March 2014 and poisoning was immediately suspected. The police put out a press statement on 25th March (here) but at that stage they hadn’t conducted a proper search, so by telling the world about this suspected crime they gave the culprit(s) every opportunity to hide any remaining evidence. A thorough police search didn’t take place until 9th April (see here) – three weeks after the discovery of the first dead birds. Unsurprisingly, no evidence to link the crime to a suspect was found.

Two years on and we’re no closer to seeing justice prevail. It’s just another unsolved raptor-killing crime amongst hundreds of others.

Previous blogs on the Ross-shire Massacre here

16
Feb
16

Ross-shire Massacre discussed at RACCE meeting

RK5Back to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) committee meeting in January….

The topic of the Ross-shire Massacre was raised again. For new readers, the Ross-shire Massacre refers to the discovery of 22 dead raptors in a small area of Conon Bridge in the Highlands in March 2014. Sixteen red kites and six buzzards were found dead: 12 red kites and 4 buzzards have since been confirmed to have been poisoned by a ‘banned substance’. There have been no arrests to date. Our last update was on the 18 month anniversary (here) and we’ll be writing more when the two-year anniversary rolls around in March.

In the meantime, here’s the discussion from the RACCE committee meeting in January. In a nutshell, 22 months on from one of the biggest mass raptor poisonings uncovered in Scotland, the police have no progress to report:

Dave Thompson MSP (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP): This concerns the cases involving raptors up in Ross-shire. I have a couple of letters from Police Scotland in that regard, and I want to tease out one or two little points. One of the letters refers to the “consequence of a … use of a banned substance” and to the belief “that the raptors may not have been the specific target”. The second letter makes it very clear regarding one case that “there are limited opportunities to progress unless someone comes forward with information.”

You are probably aware that I have asked for some kind of interim report into the initial handling of that case. I was told in that letter that “Police Scotland does not produce ‘interim reports’ during a live investigation”. Given that the case in question could be live for the next 20 years, we are never going to get an opportunity to consider how things were initially handled in relation to the matter. There are concerns in the community and elsewhere that there was perhaps some unnecessary delay and so on. Given that there will be “limited opportunities to progress unless someone comes forward” with evidence, have you carried out, or do you plan to carry out, any internal investigation as to how the investigation itself was initially carried out? If so, have you learned any lessons from that? Will you able to make any of that public at any point?

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: We had a fairly lengthy discussion last year about the current state of the case at that stage. Some similar points were raised about the handling of the matter in the media—that was about press statements, if I remember correctly. There was a desire to review our approach.

At the heart of the letter to which you have referred is the point that having the police produce a report is not necessarily the best way to address the issues. However, I would be very happy to be involved in something in future with a range of organisations and interested parties, including yourself, whereby we are able to sit down and gather what the concerns are. We are aware of most of them. We could work through how we could do things differently in future, and we could achieve that even within the scope of a live investigation, which would not require the police to produce a report as such. As I say, producing a report might not be the most effective approach.

As I reported last year, we have done a number of things internally to review the investigation at senior detective level, which is unprecedented in a wildlife crime investigation. We had what we call a major investigation advisory group meeting, with a process around that. That has been subject to both peer and senior officer review, assessment and support. Notwithstanding all that, we have not arrived at a position where we have been able to solve the crimes, as it were, although that is not to say that we will not in the future.

Therefore, I would still be cautious in ensuring that we do not do anything to prejudice any potential future cases. A lot of information is still being received about the case. Much of that is statements or reports along the lines of, “Everybody knows who’s done it”, “We all know what’s gone on”, or “Everybody knows where the police should be looking.” I can assure the committee that we have followed up every statement in which we can identify the individuals involved. That includes people coming to us or people whom we have been made aware of who have made such statements publicly or privately.

The committee might have had feedback indicating that people are surprised when we have taken a statement from them after quite some time has passed. Unfortunately, in every single case, the statement has turned out to be without substance. We have spoken to everybody we possibly could and, although there is a general perception that everybody knows who did it, no one has been able to give us their names. Given the huge effort that has gone into—and continues to go into—the inquiry, we should have a caveat here because of public concern about perceived police inaction. The case is still sitting with the detective superintendent in Inverness, who is the lead investigator. I have been assured by him, as recently as last week, that there is still an active review and engagement on any potential lines of inquiry that come to light.

A short documentary was recently aired on the internet that interviewed a number of people. We picked up a number of lines from that, which were similar to previous statements in which people asserted that everybody knew who had done it. However, no one in the documentary knew who had done it, because we have spoken to them all.

Dave Thompson: You suggested a meeting between a range of bodies and parties, perhaps including myself. It would have to be before 23 March, because I am not standing again, although I am sure that my successor—whoever that is— would be happy to take part. Such a meeting would reassure people. Although the public accept that the police continue to look into the case and that they would dearly like to get any evidence that would allow them to conclude it, there are questions about how the police went about things at the beginning. Such a meeting would be really useful because frank discussions could take place and the issue could be talked through, without you having to divulge things that might prejudice the case. I would welcome such a meeting, if you are offering one.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham: I am, and I offer to do it before 23 March.

28
Oct
15

Ross-shire Massacre: local MSP tries again for review of police investigation

In November 2014, Dave Thompson, the local MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, wrote to the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, to ask for a review of how Police Scotland had handled the investigation into the deaths of 22 raptors that had been found poisoned near Conon Bridge (the Ross-shire Massacre). The Police had been severely criticised for their handling of this case, not just for the investigation itself but also for what many of us believed to be an appalling media strategy. We blogged about it here.

Here is a copy of Dave Thompson’s letter to the Cabinet Secretary:

Dave Thompson MSP letter to Justice Sec

We didn’t hear anything further so an FoI was recently submitted to the Justice Department to find out what had happened.

It turns out that in December 2014 Mr MacAskill’s successor, Michael Matheson, had responded to Dave Thompson’s request by stating that he couldn’t comment about a live, on-going police investigation but suggested that Mr Thompson should raise any concerns with the Chief Constable. Here is a copy of Mr Matheson’s letter:

Justice Minister letter

Almost a year on from his first request, and with no sign that the Police investigation has made any progress in the 18 months since the dead birds were discovered (see here), Dave Thompson has now written to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland to urge him to issue an interim report on the first stages of the Police investigation of this case. His second request for a review was no doubt influenced by the recent release of an excellent short documentary video (see here) about the mass poisoning.

Dave Thompson MSP said: “I appreciate the need to await the full review into the investigation, especially as the case is live, and as such, we must be sensitive to the investigative process.

However, I feel enough time has elapsed that the general public are owed an explanation of where the case is at, which is why I have requested an interim review to be issued by Police Scotland, so we can see how the process has been handled in the early stages.

I have written to the Chief Constable and copied in the Chief Superintendent, Julian Innes, and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, on the matter.

I look forward to hearing back from the Chief Constable as soon as is practically possible on what is an issue that still remains a concern to many of my constituents and beyond“.

Here is the transcript of his latest letter:

Dear Chief Constable,

Given the length of time that has passed and the failure to date to bring a culprit to justice, I am writing to ask if Police Scotland could issue an interim report on the first stages of the investigation, perhaps the first six months, into the raptor deaths around Conon Bridge. 

As you know there is considerable public anger at the incident and I believe this would go some way to helping people understand how seriously the Police are taking the investigation and the constraints you may have been under in the early stages.

Yours sincerely

Dave Thompson SNP MSP

END

22
Oct
15

Red sky on the Black Isle: new film on the Ross-shire Massacre

A short, 12 minute film has been released about the 2014 Ross-shire Massacre, the mass illegal poisoning of 22 red kites and buzzards.

Entitled ‘Red Sky on the Black Isle’, this is an excellent film and includes interviews with some of the key individuals involved with the investigation which, as you’ll know, still remains unsolved 19 months on (see here).

Watch the film here

Rossshire Massacre film

01
Oct
15

Misleading conclusions from Scot Gov’s 2014 wildlife crime report

Wildlife Crime in Scotland 2014 reportYesterday the Scottish Government published its latest report on wildlife crime: ‘Wildlife Crime in Scotland: 2014 annual report’ (see here).

It was accompanied by a Government press release (here) with a headline statement claiming ‘ Recorded wildlife crime dropped by 20 per cent in the period 2013-2014‘. This claim has been regurgitated, without real examination, in much of the national press, which will give the public the impression that all’s going swimmingly in the fight against wildlife crime in Scotland. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s start with the report’s name. It claims to be the ‘2014 annual report’, but actually the period covered by the report is the 2013/14 financial year: April 2013 to March 2014. That means the majority of the data are from 2013 (9 months worth) – these are wildlife crimes that took place as long ago as 2.5 years and the most ‘recent’ took place 18 months ago (March 2014). Many more offences occurred during the nine months between April-Dec 2014 but they are not included in this report. Although the report itself does explain the reasons behind this odd time-frame selection, the report’s title does not, which means anyone just browsing the headline news will be given a false impression of how recent these findings are. It’s a small point, but it’s an important one.

However, there are bigger issues than just a misleading report title.

If you take the report’s data at face value (which we don’t – more on that in a second) and accept that it’s representative of all reported wildlife crime in Scotland between April 2013 and March 2014, you might also accept that the claim of a 20% reduction in recorded wildlife crime is accurate. But if you look at the data (Table 1), you’ll notice that this supposed broad reduction (i.e. reduction of recorded wildlife crimes in general) is actually almost entirely due to a large reduction in one particular area of wildlife crime: specifically, fish poaching. To then apply this reduction of a specific wildlife crime to all other types of wildlife crime in a broad sweeping statement is wholly misleading.

Our main issue with this report, as with previous reports, is the Government’s insistence on only using crime data that has been recorded by the Police. Although this report does attempt to address this problem by including separate sections on data collected by others (e.g. Scottish Badgers, SSPCA), these data are still not included in the overall analysis of wildlife crime trends because these incidents weren’t recorded on the Police national crime database. A good example of this is shown in Table 10, which details the number of wildlife cases investigated by the SSPCA. The report accepts that cases investigated solely by the SSPCA (as opposed to cases where the SSPCA has assisted the Police) are not included in the ‘official’ recorded crime data because ‘they are not recorded on the police national crime database’. So in effect, 69 cases that were investigated solely by the SSPCA during the period covered by the report are absent from the national figures. It seems bizarre that even though these data are available (of course they are, they appear in this report, albeit in a separate section!) they are still excluded from the main analysis. This blatant exclusion immediately reduces our confidence in the robustness of the ‘national’ data.

Another blatant exclusion of data is demonstrated in Table 17 in the Raptor Persecution section. This table identifies only 16 bird of prey victims from the mass poisoning in March 2014 known as the Ross-shire Massacre, excluding the other six victims that were found. The report justifies this exclusion by explaining that evidence of poisoning was not found after examinations of those six raptors. That’s fair enough, but surely we’re not expected to believe that those six victims all died of natural causes, in the same small area, and at the same time, as the 16 confirmed poisoning victims? They don’t appear in the figures because a crime couldn’t be identified, but they still died as a result of this crime and to pretend otherwise is nonsense.

An additional problem that erodes public confidence in the accuracy of the ‘national’ data is the issue of how carefully wildlife crimes are recorded. A report published earlier this year (which includes part of the period covered by this latest Government report) revealed systemic problems with the under-recording of several types of wildlife crime as well as failures by the police to undertake follow-up investigations on reports of suspected wildlife crimes (see LINK report here). If the police don’t follow up with an investigation, the incident is unlikely to be recorded as a crime. Until these issues are suitably addressed, the accuracy of ‘official’ ‘national’ wildlife crime data will inevitably be viewed with suspicion.

So, we don’t have much confidence in this report’s data and we certainly don’t agree with the Government’s claim that (overall) recorded wildlife crime has reduced by 20%, but there are some positives. It’s clear that more thought has been put in to the material contained in this year’s report and there is definitely more clarity about the sources used. That’s good progress.

There are also a couple of things in this report that we are particularly pleased to see.

First, let’s go back to Table 10 (SSPCA data). You may remember (if you have a long memory) that in March 2014, the Government opened its consultation on whether to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA. That consultation closed in September 2014 and, over a year later, we’re still waiting for a decision. It’s our understanding that one of the main sticking points is with Police Scotland (who, as you’ll recall, strongly objected to an increase of powers – see here). Apparently, the current sticking point is that Police Scotland are worried that they’ll be excluded from wildlife crime investigations because the SSPCA ‘refuses to work with them’. However, if you look at Table 10, you’ll notice that 50% of all wildlife cases taken by the SSPCA during the period covered by this report were undertaken in partnership with the Police. That’s 50%. Does that look like an organisation that is refusing to work with the Police? It doesn’t to us.

The second point of interest in this report appears in Table 18b. This table provides information about recorded bird of prey crimes between April 2013 and March 2014. Have a look at the 7th entry down:

Species: Hen Harrier

Police Division: Aberdeenshire and Moray

Type of Crime: Shooting

Date: June 2013.

Why is this of particular interest? Well, cast your mind back to January 2014 when we blogged about a vague Police Scotland press release that stated a man had been reported to the Crown Office ‘in relation to the death of a hen harrier’ in Aberdeenshire that took place in June 2013 (see here). So it turns out this hen harrier had been shot. Amazing that it took over two years for this information to be made public. But that’s not the most interesting bit. For this unnamed individual to be reported to the Crown for allegedly shooting this hen harrier means that the Police have some level of evidence that they think links him to the crime. If they didn’t have evidence, he wouldn’t have been reported. So, the alleged crime took place 2.4 years ago. The Crown Office was notified 1.9 years ago. What’s happening with this case? Is there going to be a prosecution? Why such a long delay for a crime that is deemed a ‘priority’ by the Scottish Government?




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