Posts Tagged ‘shooting

21
May
18

Red kite shot & blinded in North Pennines raptor persecution blackspot

Press release from RSPB, 21 May 2018:

SEVENTH RED KITE PERSECUTED IN NORTH PENNINES ‘PROBLEM AREA’

The RSPB is appealing for information after a protected red kite was found shot in Country Durham.

The bird was found alive on 23 April in Derwent Gorge, in the North Pennines AONB, by a member of the public who alerted the group Friends of Red Kites (FoRK). An x-ray by a local vet showed the bird had three shotgun pellets lodged in its head, neck and wing. The bird was cared for but went blind from its injuries and had to be euthanized.

[Photos by Robson & Prescott Vets, Morpeth]

Durham Police visited the area where the bird was found but so far have no leads as to who shot the kite. The RSPB is now appealing to the public for information.

Like all birds of prey, red kites are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to deliberately kill or injure a wild bird. Those found to have done so could be given an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail.

Since 2010, six kites have been poisoned or shot near Derwent Gorge, including a red kite found poisoned in nearby Muggleswick in 2014.

And in February this year, a rare hen harrier disappeared in suspicious circumstances less than an hours’ drive away from this latest incident. The hen harrier, which was wearing a special satellite tag, suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting after it flew over a grouse moor near Middleton-in-Teesdale. [See here]

Jenny Shelton from the RSPB’s Investigations Unit said: “Spring is a crucial time of year when adult kites will be feeding their young, so the death of this bird could have also affected any family it might have been raising. Red kites were almost completely wiped out of the UK until they were reintroduced in the 1980s. This has been a wonderful success, and most of us enjoy watching these impressive birds. But threats like persecution are preventing them from naturally expanding their range and we clearly have a problem area on our hands here. As mainly scavengers, these birds are no risk to anyone. Blasting this bird from the sky was a thoughtless act.”

Jenny added: “We would like to thank Friends of Red Kites and Robson and Prescott Veterinary Hospital in Morpeth who have been a huge help.”

Allan Withrington of Friends of Red Kites said: That anyone could even think about shooting one of these beautiful, graceful birds is beyond my comprehension. We are saddened by yet another wildlife crime and look forward to hearing the results of any investigation.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Durham Police on 101 quoting reference number: DHM230420180371.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form HERE

ENDS

Well done to the RSPB for putting out this appeal for information. It’s a shame there’s no similar appeal on Durham Constabulary’s website (at least not at the time of writing this blog). Why not?

UPDATE 16.15hrs: We’ve updated the two maps (above) to show the location of Derwent Gorge (as opposed to the nearest town of Shotley Bridge). Derwent Gorge is bang next door to the grouse moor at Muggleswick, and lies within the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

UPDATE 17.00hrs: Well done to the North Pennines AONB for publishing the following statement on their website:

RED KITE KILLED IN NORTH PENNINES

The report of the killing of a protected red kite in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) has come as very distressing news.

Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: “We are appalled that someone has committed this despicable crime. Someone must know who is involved and we would urge anyone with any information to come forward. There are so few raptors across the Northern uplands because of this illegal persecution – no one should pretend otherwise.

We met with the police recently to raise awareness of raptor crime and we plan to follow this up. It needs more people to speak out against raptor crime, more resources put into investigation, a commitment to bring prosecutions and stiffer sentences for those found guilty.”

If you have any further information on this incident, please call Durham Police on 101 quoting reference number DHM230420180371 or the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.

ENDS

 

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19
May
18

Police appeal after red kite found shot on Harewood Estate, Yorkshire

WEST YORKSHIRE POLICE APPEAL FOR INFORMATION, 18th May 2018

POLICE APPEAL FOR INFORMATION AFTER YORKSHIRE RED KITE SHOT IN LEEDS

Police are appealing for information after a Yorkshire Red Kite was shot in Leeds.

The incident happened on Thursday 10 May when an injured Red Kite was found by two walkers on a footpath just inside the northern boundary of the Harewood Estate.

They took the bird to the estate office, who arranged for it to be cared for by staff at the Harewood Bird Garden. It had suffered serious injuries and was taken by staff to a nearby veterinary practice for treatment.

X-rays revealed that the bird had been shot and a pellet was lodged in its right wing. The bird was put down by staff at the practice, as its injuries were too severe for it to survive and wouldn’t have been able to fly any distance.

It is believed the shooting occurred close to the entry point of the public footpath into the Harewood Estate from the A659, near to the junction with the A61 at the bottom of Harewood Bank.

West Yorkshire Police are appealing for witnesses who were in the area and may have seen anything suspicious; to come forward and contact the police to assist with their investigation.

[Red kite, photographer unknown]

In 2016, at around the same time of the year, six Red Kites were known to have been shot in Yorkshire – two in West Yorkshire and four in North Yorkshire.

In all but one of these cases, the injuries proved fatal. Other instances of kites being targeted by firearms, include one fatally shot at Pateley Bridge in 2017 and several which had been victims of illegal poisoning but which had been found to be carrying lead shot from non-fatal shooting incidents.

Ben Lascelles, Development Manager at Harewood Estate, said: “The Harewood Estate works hard to champion conservation of Red Kites and other native wildlife, and many thousands of people visit us each year to enjoy them. To discover one of these majestic birds has been shot is particularly disappointing and upsetting.”

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Illegal persecution is a real and persistent threat to birds of prey like red kites. They’re a wonderful sight, and the conservation effort to return these birds to our skies has been huge – it is disgraceful that some are spoiling this through their thoughtless and criminal actions.

The RSPB’s new raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101 allows whistle-blowers to come forward confidentially in relation to this type of crime and, given the number of illegally kites in Yorkshire, we hope someone will speak up and reveal who is responsible.”

Doug Simpson, Yorkshire Red Kites Co-ordinator, said: “This latest attack on the reintroduced Red Kite population is particularly sickening. A lot of hard work has gone into this programme and for someone to strike right at the heart of it, at the actual release site, is both unbelievable and devastating. It once again raises the question of the suitability of some people to own guns.

No fewer than 43 Red Kites have been confirmed as victims of illegal persecution since releases began in Yorkshire in 1999. That 23 of them have been found by people out in the countryside shows the importance of everyone keeping their eyes open for anything untoward and reporting it.”

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call West Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting crime reference number 13180232956. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

17
May
18

Police appeal after buzzard found shot in North York Moors National Park

APPEAL FOR INFORMATION FROM CLEVELAND POLICE, 17th May 2018:

SHOT RAPTOR APPEAL

At some point on Friday 4th May between 1pm – 6pm a buzzard was shot near to Lockwood Beck Reservoir in East Cleveland.

The buzzard had received serious wounds to its legs and unfortunately had to be put to sleep by a local vet.

We are appealing for anyone who may have been in the area at the time and seen person / persons / vehicles acting suspiciously.

Please contact Police on 101 quoting event no: SE18078559 and for the attention of PC Ward 542

ENDS

Lockwood Beck Reservoir is in the North York Moors National Park:

14
May
18

Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin: part 3

Criminal proceedings continued on Friday (11 May 2018) against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin, who is accused of a series of alleged wildlife crimes, including the shooting of two short-eared owls in April 2017 at Whernside, Cumbria in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is further alleged he was in possession of items (a shotgun and an electronic calling device) capable of being used to kill wild birds.

Following a farcical hearing at Preston Magistrates Court in March 2018 (see here), the case was due to be heard last Friday but it was adjourned, again, at the request of the defence.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 2018.

For legal reasons, we won’t be accepting any comments on this post.

 

13
Apr
18

Buzzard found shot dead at Leadhills, south Scotland

From the Carluke Gazette (13/4/18):

POLICE NEED INFO ON BUZZARD THAT WAS SHOT

Police Scotland officers at Lanark are seeking the public’s help as they investigate the shooting of a bird of prey.

A deceased buzzard was found near to Station Road in Leadhills. Examination of the bird showed that it had likely been shot, had managed to recover, before then being shot a second time and killed.

Officers are seeking witnesses to any shooting activity which is suspicious.

Those with information on the dead bird are urged to contact police on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800-55511, quoting incident number 0571 of 03/04/18.

ENDS

There is no information about when this buzzard was found dead although a local source advises it was earlier this year.

Here is a photo of Station Road, surrounded on either side by the grouse moors of Leadhills Estate:

Here is the position of Leadhills Estate (and the neighbouring Buccleuch Estate boundary in red dashes) in south Scotland. [Boundary details from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]. It’s in close proximity to the Moffat Hills, the proposed release site for the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, due to begin later this year.

Leadhills is a notorious raptor persecution hotspot, with over 50 confirmed crimes recorded in the area since 2003. Only two of these have ever resulted in a successful prosecution (gamekeeper convicted in 2004 for shooting a short-eared owl; gamekeeper convicted in 2009 for laying out a poisoned bait).

Last year, witnesses reported the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Leadhills Estate (here) and the alleged shooting of a short-eared owl (here). We’re not aware of any pending prosecutions in relation to these incidents.

We have been waiting to see whether SNH would impose a General Licence restriction but so far SNH has refused to comment, saying it’s not in the public interest to explain these decisions.

13
Apr
18

Why the video evidence was ruled inadmissible in the Bleasdale Estate case

We’ve been reporting on the case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper James Hartley since September 2017 (see herehereherehere for previous posts).

The case against Mr Hartley collapsed recently after the judge ruled the RSPB’s video evidence inadmissible.

In a series of blogs we’re examining what happened in this case.

In part one (here), we set out the nine charges against Mr Hartley relating to the alleged shooting of a peregrine and the alleged spring-trapping of a second peregrine on the Bleasdale Estate, Bowland, in April 2016. We outlined the evidence as presented to the court by the Crown Prosecution Service, the defence’s skeleton argument calling for the video evidence to be ruled inadmissible, and other technical issues relating to further evidence which the defence argued should also be ruled inadmissible. We also commented on the quality of the presentations by both the CPS barrister and the defence QC.

In this blog we discuss the legal argument surrounding the admissibility of the RSPB’s video evidence and the judge’s explanation for why she ruled the evidence inadmissible. In later blogs we’ll discuss the other issues raised, including the RSPB’s alleged breach of the Data Protection Act and the alleged breach of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act during the police search of the nest site and surrounding grouse moor.

Before we get in to the details of the legal arguments for and against the admissibilty of this particular video evidence, it is worth bearing in mind the statement made to the court during the first court hearing in September 2017, by the defendant’s solicitor, Tim Ryan:

My client did not carry out the alleged offences and is not the person shown in the video footage“.

Unfortunately the strength of this argument and the evidence to support it remains untested in a court of law.

It’s also worth noting the judge’s comments to the court before her ruling on the admissisbility of the video evidence:

I must remark that reaching a decision in this case has been made all the more difficult by the Crown declining to call live evidence [i.e. RSPB witnesses], despite the court inviting the Crown to consider doing so. The CPS website when addressing cases of this type states:

‘…Where surveillance product is to be relied upon, the question of whether that surveillance was overt or covert and was carried out at the initiation of or with the encouragement of the police in circumstances likely to result in private information being obtained, are questions of fact to be determined in each individual case…’

Even with that guidance, the Crown in this case ask the court to make such findings on the basis of written evidence alone. They have given no explanation as to why they do so. I find that approach most unusual“.

That statement alone probably summarises all you need to know about this particular case. The video evidence was crucial to the prosecution’s case, and yet the prosecution barrister missed opportunity after opportunity to challenge the defence QC’s legal arguments against its use.

On to the legal argument.

We’ve prepared an edited version of the court’s ruling on the admissibility of this particular video evidence, as delivered by District Judge Goodwin on 14 March 2018. We have redacted several names of witnesses and the peregrine nest site name, for obvious reasons.

This document summarises the defence’s argument against the admissibility of the video evidence, the prosecution’s counter-claims (such as they were), and the judge’s consideration of each point.

Download it here: Bleasdale RIPA_RPUK copy

A few thoughts….

The defence accepted that as the RSPB was not a public authority it was therefore not subject to RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) whereby authorisation would be required for covert surveillance on private land. However, Mr Rouse QC (for the defence) painted a picture of the RSPB and police “working hand in glove” and being “inextricably entwined” and that the two RSPB investigators involved in this case were both ex-police officers [not actually true] and thus should have known that RIPA authority should have been sought for the installation of this camera and by not doing so they were “deliberately flouting the rules“.

Mr Yip (for the prosecution) argued that no breach of RIPA had occured because the RSPB is not a public authority, is not listed on the RIPA Schedule, and had been monitoring this nest for a number of years as a matter of routine. He also pointed to many other similar cases that had been reliant on covert video evidence where there hadn’t been an issue with its admissibility or where there had, the court had used its discretion to accept the evidence because the actual trial process, where the evidence is tested, still ensures the defendant receives a fair trial.

Mr Rouse suggested to the court that if the [RIPA] law doesn’t apply to the RSPB then it shouldn’t apply to others, “…for example, Fathers for Justice, who could put bugs and cameras in hospitals, schools, bedrooms“.

In our opinion, Mr Rouse stretched this point beyond its limit. To compare the action of the RSPB placing a covert camera aimed at the nest of a protected Schedule 1 peregrine (to which only those in possession of a Sched 1 disturbance licence are permitted to visit) in the middle of a grouse moor far away from any homes and dwellings, with the placing of bugs/cameras in hospitals, schools and bedrooms, is simply ludicrous. Of course you would expect to capture ‘private’ information about people if you bugged hospitals, schools and bedrooms. You would NOT expect to capture private information about anybody if you pointed a camera at a Sched 1 nest site in the middle of a remote moor because nobody should have been there unless they held a disturbance licence.

Mr Yip should have been all over this and highlighted the obvious difference in circumstances, but he didn’t, other than to say the camera was not placed near a dwelling. Indeed he couldn’t take the argument apart, because as he told the court, he had not watched the video footage and nor did he have a copy available when the judge asked to see it (presumably she asked to see it to help determine the position of the camera and the view being recorded).

Mr Rouse argued that the RSPB’s placement of the camera did fall under the definition of ‘directed surveillance’ as defined by RIPA because even if it hadn’t captured ‘private’ information, the camera was CAPABLE of capturing private information (audio and visual) because the grouse moor was open access and the “public is entitled to privacy when out and about“. Again, had Mr Yip seen the video footage (it was nowhere near a private dwelling) and understood the restriction on visiting the nest sites of Schedule 1 species, he could have put this argument to bed.

The defence argued that the RSPB should have sought RIPA authority via the police for the placement of the camera, and pointed to a previous case, reported in Legal Eagle 2006, where this had been done. The judge asked Mr Yip what his view was on that case. Mr Yip said he didn’t know the details of that case but the circumstances would have been case specific. Had Mr Yip been familiar with that case, he would have known that it was a police-led investigation whereby the police had requested the assistance of the RSPB, not the other way around, that the landowner’s consent had been granted for the placement of a camera (it was a quarry owner) and therefore RIPA authority was easily obtained. [RIPA authority is not available for what are considered ‘low level’ offences such as wildlife crime, UNLESS the landowner’s permission is granted for the placement of a camera]. The judge asked Mr Yip why the RSPB had not sought the landowner’s consent for the Bleasdale camera and when he couldn’t answer she invited him to consider calling a ‘live’ witness [from the RSPB] to explain. Mr Yip did not accept the invitation, for reasons unknown, thus depriving the RSPB of an opportunity to explain.

Mr Rouse QC also drew the court’s attention to an open letter written last year by the Crown Office (Scotland) detailing its reasons why several prosecutions, all reliant on RSPB covert video footage, had recently been dropped [the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate & the alleged setting of a pole trap on Brewlands Estate]. Mr Rouse argued that this letter proved the RSPB had been told not to use covert cameras in Scotland “but the RSPB has decided to go on in England and take their chances“, referring to the current Bleasdale case. However, the Crown Office letter was written in May 2017, over a year AFTER the camera was placed on the Bleasdale Estate, so it was disingenuous of Mr Rouse to suggest the RSPB had ignored advice “and decided to go on in England and take their chances” at Bleasdale. Mr Yip missed this point entirely.

There’s no denying that the interpretation and application of RIPA is complex, is dependent upon the particular circumstances of a case, and we do not pretend to be experts on its use. Far from it. However, what is clear, not just from the Bleasdale case but also several others where covert footage was central to the prosecution, is an inconsistency of approach. Some courts allow it without question, others do not, and recently in Scotland the decision hasn’t even been made by the court because the Crown Office has ruled it inadmissible instead of allowing a Sheriff to consider the specific circumstances of each case.

So where does this leave us, apart from with an ever-increasing sense of injustice and an ever-decreasing confidence in the criminal justice system?

The RSPB and other groups who rely upon using covert video evidence could continue as they have been, and run the risk of cases collapsing on technicalities. That’s not really satisfactory though. Investigators need to be clear about the restrictions in advance, to allow them to take every measure to avoid this outcome and to safeguard the privacy of innocent individuals.

Alternatively, as has been suggested a few times now, the RSPB could simply forget about reporting suspected incidents to the police for a potential prosecution and instead could just place the footage in the public domain for the public to make up its own mind. This would save years of endless delay waiting for a case to reach court and, as we’ve seen in recent failed cases, video footage is a very powerful tool and stirs up public debate far more than a conviction does – the failed Cabrach case is a good example of this, as people are still talking about the injustice of that case collapsing a year on, whereas if there’d been a conviction the case would have been in the news for a few days and then forgotten. This alternative option is not really satisfactory either though. There would undoubtedly be legal issues about privacy and human rights (although it’s not difficult to pixellate a face to avoid identity) and it wouldn’t result in fair justice for either the alleged perpetrators (who wouldn’t have the opportunity of defending themselves in court) nor justice for the victims of these crimes.

Interestingly, as an aside, we’ve yet to see the covert video footage captured at Bleasdale Estate. We’ve heard about its apparent gruesome content, as described to the court, but surprisingly the RSPB has not yet put the footage in the public domain, as it has with other cases. Perhaps the defence is looking at ways of preventing its publication? Time will tell.

Another alternative is to change the law. As mentioned above, RIPA authority, without the landowner’s permission, is only available for what is classed as ‘serious crime’ (defined by the custodial sentence available for that offence). The types of crimes we’re seeing against raptors don’t fall within this definition. However, this might change in Scotland once the Scottish Government implements an increase of penalties for wildlife crime, following its acceptance two years ago of recommendations made in the Poustie Review. Would that mean that RIPA authority could then be sought by the police to investigate suspected raptor persecution crimes? We’re not entirely sure but hopefully some clever lawyers will be looking at that.

Whatever, something needs to change, and fast. It’s quite clear that the current rules permit landowners and their employees to commit whatever crimes they want against raptors, safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be held to account. NB: this is not a direct reference to the Bleasdale case, but is a general observation of raptor persecution crimes taking place on privately-owned land.

The next blog on the Bleasdale case will consider the legal arguments put forward against the admissibility of some of the other evidence collected, involving alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act and alleged breaches of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act in relation to the search of the nest site and surrounding grouse moor.

UPDATE 16 April 2018: Why other evidence was also ruled inadmissible in the Bleasdale Estate case (here)

UPDATE 16 April 2018: Grouse-shooting industry’s reaction to the failed Bleasdale Estate prosecution (here)

11
Apr
18

Witness observes buzzard shot dead in Norfolk

From today’s Eastern Daily Press (11/4/18):

BUZZARD SHOT NEAR DOWNHAM MARKET

A buzzard has been shot dead in the West Norfolk fens.

A gardener believes he saw a man shoot the protected bird of prey at Boughton, near Downham Market this lunchtime.

It came down near the home of retired insurance broker Paul Coulten, 77, who is now preserving the carcass until it can be examined by police wildlife crime officers.

My gardener was out walking the dogs on my land when he heard some gunfire,” said Mr Coulten. “The next thing he saw a buzzard come down in the woods and saw a man on a quad bike in the distance.”

Police confirmed the incident had been reported to them and officers had arranged to visit Mr Coulten.

[Photo of the shot buzzard, by Susan Simper]

I hope someone gets nabbed for it,” he said. “We’re getting fed up with it around here, there are no foxes because they all get shot to death, so I’m hopeful the police will progress it.”

Buzzards are one of our commonest birds of prey. They are frequently seen soaring on their large, broad wings, when warm rising air creates convection currents over woods and farmland.

The species is protected by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. Anyone convicted of killing one could face an unlimited fine and up to six months’ imprisonment.

Despite this, the RSPB says birds of prey are still persecuted. In 2016 – the latest year for which figures are available – some 40 were shot, including 14 buzzards, 11 red kites, seven peregrines and two hen harriers. Some 22 birds, including 13 buzzards, were also poisoned.

The RSPB, which fears the figures are the tip of the iceberg, says there were no prosecutions during that entire year.

Norfolk is one of the worst areas for bird crime. A total of 262 incidents were recorded between 2011 and 2016 across England and Wales, with 146 of these caused by shooting and 66 by poisoning.

Norfolk recorded the second highest number of incidents at 17 after North Yorkshire at 39.

Its senior investigations officer Mark Thomas said of the latest killing: “Raptor persecution, the illegal killing of birds of prey, is really common, it’s widespread across the UK. What should happen now is it should be X-Rayed, there would have to be an investigation, it’s very likely they’ll find out who’s responsible.”

ENDS

UPDATE 12 April 2018: EDP now reporting the buzzard was not shot (here)




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