Posts Tagged ‘shooting



09
Apr
18

Case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper collapses as RSPB video evidence ruled inadmissible

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

Mr Hartley faced 9 charges as follows:

  1. Disturbing the nesting site of a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016)
  2. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016)
  3. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016)
  4. Setting trap / gin / snare etc. to cause injury to a wild bird (between 13-14/04/2016)
  5. Taking a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016)
  6. Possessing a live / dead Schedule 1 wild bird or its parts (14/04/2016)
  7. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (13/04/2016)
  8. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (between 12/04/2016 – 27/04/2016)
  9. Causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – Animal Welfare Act 2006 (between 14/04/2016 – 15/04/2016)

The case collapsed last week after District Judge Goodwin ruled the RSPB video evidence inadmissible at a hearing at Preston Magistrates Court on 28 March 2018.

Reporting restrictions imposed early on in the case prevented us from blogging in detail until the case had concluded. We’re now able to report what happened.

This blog is the first in a series about this case. In this one, we set out the Crown’s case against Mr Hartley, and the defence’s skeleton argument against the admissibility of the video evidence.

Here are the details of the case as presented to the court by the Crown Prosecution Service (barrister: Mr Yip):

On the 11th April 2016 RSPB Investigations Officer [name redacted], in the presence of RSPB Investigations Officer [name redacted], installed a covert video camera pointed towards a peregrine falcon nest site within the boundary of Bleasdale Game Estate in the Forest of Bowland.

The red star denotes the location of the Bleasdale Estate:

The Bleasdale Estate is owned by Jeremy Duckworth. Mr Duckworth describes the upper moorland as managed for grouse shooting and he employs one gamekeeper for this area, that being the defendant James Hartley.

It is the Crown’s case that the covert camera captured footage which revealed incidents on the 13 and 14 April 2016 where the nest site and birds were interfered with.

The Crown say that a number of clips show that on 13th April 2016 at 19.53hrs an incubating peregrine leaves the nest scrape. This is immediately followed by what appears to be four shotgun discharges. A few minutes later at 19.57hrs a person wearing a camouflage suit and in possession of a hammer attends the nest site for a number of minutes before leaving.

The following morning, 14th April 2016 at 10.29hrs, a peregrine, believed to be the male parent, lands on the edge of the nest ledge and walks in to the nest scrape area. The bird becomes trapped all day in what the Crown say is a spring trap. At 20.25hrs the peregrine is still present. At 23.12hrs a person with a torch visits the site. It is the Crown’s case that the inference is this person had removed the peregrine and the trap as the bird was no longer present the following day.

On 21st April 2016 a number of officers from Lancashire Constabulary and the RSPB attended the nest site area and recovered four eggs and some feathers.

On 26th April 2016 a search warrant was executed and a search was conducted at the defendant’s home address and outbuildings. A green bag containing a number of items was seized from an outbuilding. Forensic DNA analysis from Dr Lucy Webster provides extremely strong support to the proposition that two of the items within this exhibit, an orange handled knife and a wooden handled hammer have been in contact with peregrine falcon.

Between 17.37hrs and 19.11hrs on 24th May 2016 the defendant was interviewed under caution when he declined to answer any questions put to him.

Between 13.16hrs and 13.50hrs on 2nd November 2016 the defendant was interviewed under caution for the second time when he declined to answer any questions put to him.

END

Here is the skeleton argument presented to the court by the defence (barrister: Mr Justin Rouse QC):

The defence seek to exclude the video footage obtained by [RSPB Investigator, name redacted] and the items recovered in the search on the 21 April 2016 under s78 Police & Criminal Evidence Act [PACE] 1984.

S78 PACE provides as follows:

‘…..In any proceedings the court may refuse to allow evidence on which the prosecution proposes to rely to be given if it appears to the court, that, having regard to all the circumstances, including the circumstances in which the evidence was obtained, the admission of the evidence would have such an adverse effect on the fairness of the proceedings that the court ought not to admit it’.

The defence submit that the RSPB have sought to circumvent the provisions of RIPA 2000 [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000] together with s93 of the Police Act 1997; that they have breached Code B of PACE 1984; that RSPB Investigator [name redacted] was not a data handler for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 1998; that the RSPB chose not to voluntarily adopt the Surveillance Camera Code and/or that the police were bound by that code and that the RSPB were trespassing on the land unlawfully, having failed to seek the permission of the landowner.

END

The full details of the defence’s legal argument will be published in a second blog, along with the judge’s commentary on each of the components of the defence’s argument. For those of us interested in such details it was a fascinating and well-presented argument. And therein lies the crux of this case. In our opinion, the court’s ruling on the video evidence was inevitable, not necessarily because of the strength of the defence’s legal argument, but because of the weakness in the prosecution’s counter-argument against it.

For those of us who sat in the public gallery to observe the legal argument hearing on 14 March 2018, it became apparent, very quickly, that the outcome of this case (and thus, supposed ‘justice’) would be determined by the amount of money available to pay for legal representation.

The representative for the defence was the highly-regarded Mr Justin Rouse QC. We have no idea who paid for his time and expertise (e.g. the defendant? His family? His employer? A representative membership body, e.g. National Gamekeepers Org or BASC?) but whoever it was will no doubt consider it money well spent. It was very clear that Mr Rouse (or his junior) had probably spent a long time in preparation for this case: his presentation was meticulous and thoroughly organised, with every aspect labelled and referenced in a bundle of documents that he’d provided to the judge. On every single point he raised, he was able to tell the judge on which page she should be looking. He was calm, measured and in complete control. A bit of a masterclass.

In contrast, the representative for the prosecution was Mr Yip, who turned up completely unprepared. He arrived without his bundle of evidential documents, muttering something about having left them behind, so he was unable to look up the detail of points raised by the judge. At one point Mr Rouse passed over his own copy of the evidential documents to Mr Yip, to try and help him out. The judge asked Mr Yip several questions about the video evidence and asked to see it (she was particularly interested in the angle of the covert camera and how wide a view it was able to record – a crucial element in deciding whether this was ‘directional’ surveillance, as detailed in RIPA 2000). Astonishingly, Mr Yip told the court he hadn’t seen the video evidence and he didn’t have a copy with him. He was able to produce a couple of still photos from the video but when the judge asked him to point out the position of the nest in the photos, he was unable to do so.

It has been reported on social media that the RSPB “failed to support” this case by “declining” to attend court on 14 March 2018 to answer questions raised by the judge during the legal argument hearing. What utter nonsense. The statement is categorically untrue and is a false claim being made by a group with a long-held and well-documented grudge against the RSPB, presumably with the intention of portraying the RSPB in a bad light. What actually happened was Mr Yip declined to call the RSPB as a witness during that hearing, even after being prompted by the judge, and nor did he ask for an adjournment to allow for him to call an RSPB witness at a later hearing. His reason for this decision is not known (to us) and it proved to be catastrophic for the prosecution’s case.

We think it is fair comment to describe Mr Yip as being ill-prepared for the hearing. However, there may be many reasons for that, beyond his control. It isn’t unusual for the financially-squeezed and under-resourced CPS to drop cases on lawyers at the last minute so for all we know Mr Yip might not have ‘seen’ this case until the night before the hearing. If that is what had happened, it would partly explain the gulf in quality between Mr Rouse’s and Mr Yip’s presentations. That being said, if Mr Yip had not had adequate time to prepare, he could probably have called for an adjournment.

His poor performance did not go unnoticed by the judge and in her ruling delivered to the court on 28 March her criticism was evident. More on this subject in the second blog.

Putting aside for a moment the legal arguments and the standard of presentation, the bottom line is that yet another case of alleged raptor persecution, caught on covert camera, has failed on a technicality (or in this case, several technicalities).

Although the identity of the alleged perpetrator in the Bleasdale case has not been tried and tested in court, there’s no getting away from the fact that the CPS believed the video footage to show that two peregrines appear to have been illegally killed at a nest site on the Bleasdale Estate in 2016. The unidentified perpetrator of this alleged crime will not face justice. Given the catalogue of failed cases under similar circumstances (i.e. covert video footage ruled inadmissible on a technicality), the perpetrators of these crimes have been given yet more impetus to continue, as the chances of successful prosecution these days are almost nil.

No doubt the grouse-shooting industry will jump on this result as an excuse to vilify the RSPB and its approach to investigating raptor persecution crimes. But when the RSPB publishes the video footage of this latest incident, the public will be in a position to judge for itself whether or not the RSPB’s actions were discreditable. Whether the grouse shooting industry likes it or not, public opinion, not court convictions, will ultimately be the deciding factor in addressing the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey.

UPDATE 13 April 2018: Why the video evidence was ruled inadmissible in the Bleasdale Estate case (here)

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 case (here)

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08
Apr
18

Buzzard shot in the head, south Yorkshire

From Yorkshire Post (7/4/18):

‘WILDLIFE CRIME WILL NOT BE TOLERATED’, SAY SOUTH YORKSHIRE POLICE AFTER BUZZARD IS FATALLY SHOT IN THE HEAD

‘Wildlife crime will not be tolerated in our county’ – that’s the message from South Yorkshire Police after they found a buzzard that had been fatally shot in the head.

The force confirmed yesterday that the buzzard was found dead in the lower part of Hound Hill Lane, Barnsley, with trauma to its head attributed to either a pellet or shot projectile.

Police Constable Mark Winter, Penistone Community Constable and Wildlife Crime Officer said: “Buzzards, being part of the bird of prey family are protected in law and it is quite obviously an offence to shoot, injure or trap one.

This incident has occurred over the last few days and this is an appeal for information to assist with this investigation. Wildlife crime will not be tolerated in our county, please enjoy the countryside safely, responsibly and leave it as you found it”.

ENDS

[Photo by South Yorkshire Police]

16
Mar
18

Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin: part 2

Legal proceedings continued at Preston Magistrates Court yesterday in the case against gamekeeper Timothy David Cowin, 44, who is alleged to have shot two protected 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 (see here for first blog about this case).

At a case management hearing yesterday Mr Cowin was invited to enter a plea but was stopped by his defence lawyer, Michael Kenyon. There followed an extraordinarily fractious series of submissions by the defence and the CPS prosecutor, Ms Parker.

The defence argued that not all the paperwork had been received from the CPS, despite many requests, and that some of the paperwork that had been received was “defective in its wording” and some witness statements were incorrectly dated. The defence submitted that the case should be dismissed on these technicalities.

The prosecution argued that some papers hadn’t been served because of the uncertainty of the address that had been provided (Mr Kenyon’s home address as opposed to a legal company’s business address) and that some communication from the defence had not been answered promptly due to the prosecutor being on annual leave. The issue of missing paperwork and incorrectly dated statements had been raised with the police and the CPS was awaiting a response.

District Judge Goodwin, looking quite exasperated by this farcical and ill-tempered display, suggested the lawyers improve their communications with each other. She directed the CPS to review the evidence by 29 March 2018. Once reviewed and revised as appropriate, the defence was directed to submit skeleton arguments and provide documents in support. The CPS was directed to serve a skeleton argument in response and provide documents in support, to be lodged with the court by 26 April 2018.

Mr Cowin was released on unconditional bail and was told he must attend the next court hearing, scheduled for 11 May 2018.

UPDATE: 14 May 2018: Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin part 3 (here)

28
Feb
18

Buzzard found shot dead in Suffolk

From East Anglian Daily Times (26 Feb 2018)

INVESTIGATION AFTER AT LEAST ONE BUZZARD FOUND DEAD IN SUFFOLK WOODLAND

Police are investigating the shooting of at least one Common buzzard – a legally protected bird of prey – that was found dead in a Suffolk wood.

Two buzzard corpses were reported to Suffolk Constabulary’s wildlife crime team in an incident described by naturalists as “appalling and abhorrent.” The bodies were found in woodland known as Little Carr, “on the edge of a shooting estate” on the banks of the River Dove, near Hoxne, the team’s Sgt Brian Calver said yesterday.

The discovery was reported by “a person with shooting rights”, but when a police officer visited the site only one corpse could be found. It was believed that the birds died in January, he said.

At first it was thought the bird that was found may have died as a result of poisoning but analysis of X-rays has proven that the bird was shot. We are in the process of looking into this and we will be as absolutely thorough in our investigations, as we are with all wildlife crime – and we will be trying to secure a prosecution,” said Sgt Calver.

He urged members of the public who discovered any bird of prey corpse in the countryside to report their find and its exact location to police. Any corpse should not be handled, because of the risk of poison being involved, but photographic evidence would be helpful, he added.

[Buzzard photo by RPUK]

Gi Grieco, chairman of the 400-strong Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group, said the latest persecution case was “appalling and abhorrent.”

The illegal persecution of birds of prey on the grouse moors of upland Britain is a well-documented, ongoing and major conservation issue but cases such as this latest one in Suffolk – which is certainly not the first of its kind – shows that this illegal activity is also a problem in lowland Britain,” said Mr Grieco.

This is a disgraceful incident and we hope that the police investigation results in a prosecution that ends with the appropriate penalty imposed on the perpetrator.”

The site of the incident is in Waveney Bird Club’s catchment area and club founder Steve Piotrowski, the author of The Birds of Suffolk, said: “This is yet another upsetting case of raptor persecution. It’s a shame that countryside thugs are tarnishing the name of the shooting estates that do stick to the law and do some good things for conservation.

The criminals think they can get away with it. The police do seem to struggle with prosecutions and they need all the help a vigilant public can give them.

Common buzzards were rare in Suffolk up to the 1980s because of heavy persecution that took place previously but now they are recovering, hopefully, to the level they should be at. For them to still be persecuted is not just upsetting, it’s illegal.”

Lewis Thornley,the British Association for Shooting and Conservation’s director for central England, said: “While it’s important to remember that an investigation is ongoing, BASC utterly condemns crimes against protected raptors and would urge anyone with information to assist the police.

Anyone shooting a protected species damages shooting’s reputation and puts at risk the freedoms currently enjoyed by those who shoot legally and sustainably. Such actions have no place among the law-abiding shooting community.”

Anyone with information relating to the buzzard deaths is asked to contact Suffolk police on 101 and ask for Pc Lee Andrews-Pearce, quoting the crime reference 37/8990/18

ENDS

28
Feb
18

Sparrowhawk shot dead nr Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

Press release from North Yorkshire Police:

APPEAL FOR INFORMATION AFTER SPARROWHAWK FOUND SHOT NEAR KNARESBOROUGH

Police are appealing for information after a sparrowhawk was found shot near Knaresborough.

The dead female sparrowhawk was found by a member of the public north of the village of Nidd, between Knaresborough and Ripley, with a fresh, bloodied injury, on Sunday 25 February.

The results from a subsequent x-ray showed that the bird had a smashed and broken wing. The x-ray also revealed a piece of shot lodged in the bird’s body. A police investigation is now underway.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds. Nevertheless birds of prey (raptors) are still shot, poisoned and trapped, and North Yorkshire has more confirmed incidents of raptor persecution than any other county in England. As part of a bid to tackle this, in February North Yorkshire Police teamed up with the RSPB, RSPCA, and North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks to launch ‘Operation Owl’. The joint initiative saw staff distribute flyers and posters to local businesses and talk to members of the public about raptor crime, to raise awareness of the issue.

Sergeant Kevin Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “Our wonderful countryside is host to many specially-protected birds of prey. It is absolutely unacceptable that people think they can ignore the law and subject these birds to poisonings, shootings, nest destruction and the illegal use of spring traps without consequence. We will be doing everything in our power to catch these offenders, supported by our colleagues in the RSPB and the volunteers in the national parks.”

Guy Shorrock, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, added: “Two years ago a red kite was found shot in this same area, so there is clearly a problem here. We believe there will be someone out there who has information about what is going on in this area. We urge you to come forward and call us, in complete confidence, on our Raptor Crime Hotline.”

Anyone with any information about this incident is asked to call North Yorkshire Police on 101, choose option 1 and be ready to quote reference 12180034821.

Alternatively email bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk. If you wish to remain anonymous, call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline for free on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

An impressively detailed and quick press release & clear evidence of genuine partnership working. Great stuff from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce.

27
Feb
18

Gamekeeper accused of killing owls on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

A grouse moor gamekeeper appeared at Lancaster Magistrates Court this morning to face a series of charges linked to alleged wildlife crime.

Timothy David Cowin, 44, is alleged to have shot two protected 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.

Mr Cowin’s solicitor, Michael Kenyon, requested an adjournment and no plea was entered.

Mr Cowin will be invited to submit a plea at a case management hearing scheduled for 15th March 2018.

PLEASE NOTE: For legal reasons, we will not be accepting comments on this post at this stage. Thanks.

Photo of Lancaster Magistrates Court by Ruth Tingay

UPDATE 16 March 2018: Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin part 2 (see here)

UPDATE 14 May 2018: Case against grouse moor gamekeeper Timothy Cowin part 3 (see here)

24
Feb
18

Buzzard found shot dead near Powys

From ITV News:

A buzzard which was found illegally shot near Powys has prompted concern by the RSPB and police.

The bird was found dead on the ground by a walker near Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant on 10 February, and it was reported to the police.

The bird was X-rayed by a local vet and found to contain at least eight pieces of shot.

Buzzards, like all birds of prey, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Jenny Shelton of the RSPB said: “It is saddening and concerning to hear that another protected bird of prey has been shot. This is a serious problem in Wales and the rest of the UK, and one which the RSPB employs a specialist team to tackle. We recently launched a hotline to provide a means of reporting crimes against birds of prey in complete confidence. Someone out there will know what has happened to this bird – please speak out and help end this brutal and illegal behavior“.

41 reports of wild bird crime in Wales were made to the RSPB’s Investigations unit in 2016, according to the 2016 Birdcrime report, published last November.

The report also revealed that there were no prosecutions for bird of prey persecution in the UK during 2016.

RSB Cymru Biodiversity Manager Stephen Bladwell said: “Knowing another bird of prey has fallen foul to persecution in Wales is disheartening. The latest Birdcrime report showed Powys was joint second highest UK County for raptor persecution from 2012-16 – with 22 confirmed incidents during the period. It seems there is a real problem in the county that needs addressing quickly if we are to protect the area’s wildlife. Our investigations team will continue to support Natural Resources Wales and the Rural Crime Team to address the issue“.

ENDS




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