Posts Tagged ‘Stody Estate

20
Nov
15

Stody Estate subsidy penalty confirmed

Following on from our blog five days ago about the subsidy penalty imposed against the Stody Estate as a result of their gamekeeper’s criminal poisoning activities (see here), the Rural Payments Agency has now clarified the actual size of the penalty:

RPA Stody Estate subsidy penalty - Copy

There’s something odd about this. Converting the penalty from Euros to Sterling using a currency converter app, the subsidy penalty amounts to £184, 745.08 (although the app used by Mark Avery has calculated the conversion to be £192, 160.63). Whatevs! Whichever calculation is accurate, it’s still a huge penalty and that’s good. And it still represents the highest known subsidy penalty imposed in the UK for cross-compliance breaches related to raptor persecution offences.

However, both of these amounts are considerably less than the amount we had calculated in our earlier blog five days ago.

We had previously calculated the penalty to be £221,946.75, which was 75% of the SPS subsidy that Stody Estate had received in 2014. We got the information about the amount of subsidy the Stody Estate had received in 2014 by doing a search on CAP Payments.

When you compare our first calculation of what the penalty was (£221, 946.75), with the amount the Rural Payments Agency now say the penalty is (£184, 745.08 OR £192, 160.63), it becomes clear that around £37,000 worth of potential subsidy penalty has apparently gone missing.

So either the data on the CAP Payments website are inaccurate, or the Rural Payments Agency has miscalculated and imposed a smaller penalty than they should.

Not sure we have the appetite for going back to the RPA to ask for clarification – it’s too much like hard work for a Friday afternoon. We’re quite content just to know that the penalty has finally been imposed and that the Stody Estate has had to suffer serious financial consequences as a result of the criminal actions of their gamekeeper. Good stuff.

15
Nov
15

Stody Estate receives £221,000 subsidy penalty for mass raptor poisoning

stody buzzardsRegular blog readers will know that in October 2014, gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of a series of wildlife crime offences on the Stody Estate, Norfolk, including the mass poisoning of birds of prey (10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk) which had been found dead on the estate in April 2013. He was also convicted of storing banned pesticides and other items capable of preparing poisoned baits (a ‘poisoner’s kit’) and a firearms offence (see here and here).

Lambert got off pretty lightly when he was sentenced in November 2014. Even though the judge acknowledged that Lambert’s crimes had passed the custody threshold, Lambert received a 10-week suspended sentence for poisoning 11 raptors (suspended for one year), a six-week suspended sentence for possession of firearms and dead buzzards (suspended for one year) and was ordered to pay £930 prosecution costs and an £80 victim surcharge. In our opinion (see here), this was absurdly lenient for one of England’s biggest known mass raptor poisoning incidents, and on top of that, Lambert wasn’t even sacked – it was reported that he’d been allowed to take early retirement from the Stody Estate.

Regular blog readers will also know that for the last year, we’ve turned our attention to the minted Stody Estate to try and find out whether the Rural Payments Agency had penalised the estate for breaches in cross-compliance and had removed any of their £MILLIONS of agricultural subsidies as punishment. To receive these tax-payer handouts, estates must comply with a number of measures (like don’t poison raptors) and if they don’t comply, then cross-compliance subsidies can be removed.

It’s taken a while to get any useful information about potential subsidy penalties at Stody Estate. Getting the RPA to reveal anything about this case has been like getting blood out of a stone, or the truth out of Allen Lambert. The RPA has wriggled and squirmed and done its best to avoid answering straightforward questions: see here for previous blogs about our correspondence with the RPA. However, we’re pretty much there now, although not quite there.

Our latest FoI received a response this week. We had asked the RPA (again) whether they’d now enforced a cross-compliance penalty on Stody Estate. They answered: “Yes“.

We asked what the penalty was for, exactly. They answered: “The penalty that has been applied was for a breach of farmer requirement A1, of the pre-2015 Statutory Management Requirement 1 (wild birds). The requirement reads: ‘You must not intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird‘”.

We asked how much was the penalty applied to Stody Estate for this breach. They answered: “The financial amount has yet to be confirmed, however the penalty is 75% of the Single Payment Scheme payments made to the Estate in 2014“.

So, we now know a penalty has been imposed, but, unconvincingly, the RPA still claims it isn’t able to tell us how much that penalty is. Either they’re incompetent or unwilling to embarrass the Estate. Or maybe both.

Anyway, we’ve done a bit of digging. We’ve discovered that the Stody Estate received £295,929.01 from the Single Payment Scheme in 2014:

Stody SPS 2014 - Copy

75% of £295,929.01 is £221,946.75.

That’s a massive subsidy penalty! As far as we’re aware, this is the biggest ever civil penalty imposed for cross-compliance breaches in relation to raptor persecution crimes. Previously, the largest was £107,000 imposed on Glenogil Estate in 2008 following the discovery of 32 poisoned baits suspected of being used to target birds of prey (see here). Earlier this year, we blogged about the £66,000 subsidy penalty imposed on vicarious liability landowner Ninian Johnston Stewart, whose gamekeeper had been convicted of poisoning a buzzard (see here).

There may well have been other cases where a penalty greater than £221,946.75 has been imposed for cross-compliance breaches related to raptor persecution, but we’ve been unable to find any information. We’ve blogged previously (here) about why increased publicity is needed when these penalties are applied – the realistic threat of having thousands of pounds worth of subsidies removed from your business has got to be a far greater deterrent than the pathetically weak sanctions handed down in the criminal courts.

For this reason, over the next few months we intend to re-visit some other recent cases where a successful conviction has been secured for raptor persecution crimes and start asking some questions about whether those estates involved have also received a subsidy penalty (e.g. Kildrummy Estate, Cardross Estate for a start, and there are others).

There has previously been some discussion in the comments section of this blog about whether the new system for the Single Payment Scheme (replaced this year by the Basic Payment Scheme) would still allow for subsidy penalties for cross-compliance breaches relating to raptor persecution. Some readers thought the new system wouldn’t allow for penalties and other readers thought it would. It’s our understanding that the cross compliance rules for BPS in England still contain a Statutory Management Requirement (SMR) for Wild Birds (SMR2) stating that you must protect all wild birds, their eggs and their nests, so technically any recipient of BPS could still be fined for non-compliance with SMR2 if they were liable, vicariously or otherwise, for raptor persecution on their land.

However, the new system seems to be slightly different in Scotland where SMR2 states that you must protect all wild birds, their eggs and nests if you have land classified as a Special Protection Area. That could mean that a Scottish recipient of BPS could only be fined for breaching SMR2 if the breach took place in an SPA. If that interpretation is correct, it would exclude rather a lot of land. We’ll be seeking clarification from the Scottish Government about whether raptor persecution on non-SPA land would be considered a breach of the new SMR2.

A final word – thank you to all the blog readers who have exerted pressure on the RPA over the last year regarding the Stody Estate case; we know that a number of you have been involved. Had it not been for this sustained effort, the Stody Estate may well have escaped a penalty altogether, or perhaps been given a much smaller penalty. Well done!

Photo of some of the poisoned buzzards found at Stody Estate is by Guy Shorrock (RSPB Investigations)

19
Oct
15

Stody Estate subsidy penalties: another update

IMG_4752 (2) - CopyA year ago, gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of a series of wildlife crime offences on the Stody Estate in Norfolk, including the mass poisoning of birds of prey (10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk) which had been found dead on the estate in April 2013 (see here and here).

We found out that the Stody Estate had received millions of pounds worth of agricultural subsidies (i.e. money given to them from our taxes to help them farm on the condition they look after the wildlife and wildlife habitats under their management) and we wanted to find out whether the Estate would now face a financial penalty in the form of a reduction in their subsidies for what was a very serious breach of the cross-compliance regulations.

One year later and we’re still trying to find out.

In October 2014, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) told us they “would consider action against Stody Estate“, although one of our blog readers was told, “there is no investigation ongoing” (see here).

In December 2014, one of our blog readers contacted the RPA again to ask for an update. The RPA responded in January 2015 by saying “We are unable to provide you with any meaningful response as we do not hold any information that answers your questions” (see here).

In July 2015, we again wrote to the RPA to ask whether they had imposed a penalty on Stody Estate. We were told that as the convicted gamekeeper wasn’t the actual subsidy recipient, the RPA was trying to determine whether there was “a link” between the convicted gamekeeper and the subsidy recipient (i.e. his employer) and if so, whether the recipient (Stody Estate) could be considered liable for the actions of the gamekeeper (see here). Amazing.

As the one-year anniversary of the gamekeeper’s conviction approached, in September 2015 we wrote to the RPA again to see whether they’d now worked out “a link” between the convicted employee and his employer. Last week they responded with this:

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has notified the Stody Estate in Norfolk that a cross compliance breach occurred, as [sic] result of the actions of their gamekeeper. This is because the estate is vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. Under European cross compliance rules, the RPA is obliged to follow-up reports of cross compliance breaches brought to its attention. The rates of applicable reductions are explained in the scheme rules“.

So, the inefficient RPA has taken a year to decide that there was a cross compliance breach, but we still don’t know whether a financial penalty has been imposed, and if it has, what its value is.

According to the RPA’s ‘scheme rules’, cross compliance breaches can be categorised  as either ‘negligible’ or ‘intentional’, and the severity of the penalty is dependent on this.

For negligible non-compliance (falls below the standard of care expected of a competent claimant) subsidy payment is normally reduced by 3% but could range from 1-5% depending on the extent, severity, re-occurrence and permanence of the non-compliance.

For intentional non-compliance, payments will normally be reduced by 20%, but may be reduced to 15% or increased to 100% depending on the extent, severity, re-occurrence and permanence of the non-compliance.

What do you think? Is laying out banned poisons that kill 11 raptors a negligible or intentional non-compliance?

Given that we don’t know how the RPA will determine if the breaches were negligible or intentional, and given that we don’t know how much of our money was awarded to the Stody Estate in 2013 (the year the breaches occurred), although judging by the amounts they received between 2004-2012 it was probably a considerable sum (see here), it’s difficult for us to establish even a rough guesstimate of what the penalty might be, and that’s assuming that the RPA has decided a penalty is warranted.

So, we’ve written, again, to the RPA to ask whether a penalty has been imposed (and if not, why not) and if it has been imposed, how much is it?

20
Jul
15

Stody Estate subsidy penalties: an update

IMG_4752 (2) - CopyOn 1st October 2014, gamekeeper Allen Lambert from the Stody Estate in Norfolk was found guilty of poisoning 10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk, which had been found dead on the estate in April 2013. He was also convicted of storing banned pesticides & other items capable of preparing poisoned baits (a ‘poisoner’s kit’), and a firearms offence (see here and here).

On 6th November 2014, Lambert was sentenced. Even though the magistrate acknowledged that Lambert’s crimes passed the custody threshold, he only received a 10 week suspended sentence for poisoning 11 raptors (suspended for one year), a six week suspended sentence for possession of firearms and nine poisoned buzzards (suspended for one year), and was ordered to pay £930 prosecution costs and an £80 victim surcharge.

On 5th October 2014, we blogged about the millions of pounds worth of subsidies that had been awarded to Stody Estate in recent years (see here) and we encouraged blog readers to contact the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to ask whether Stody Estate would receive a financial penalty in the form of subsidy withdrawal for being in breach of the terms & conditions of their subsidy-fest.

On 10th October 2014, the RPA responded by saying they would consider what action could be taken against Stody Estate (see here).

Then it all went quiet.

In December 2014, one of our blog readers submitted an FoI to the RPA to ask what was happening. In January 2015, the RPA responded by saying they ‘weren’t able to provide a meaningful response’ but said they would take action if it was found to be appropriate to do so (see here).

Six months on, we thought it was time for an update so an FoI was sent to the RPA to ask whether they had implemented a subsidy penalty. This is their response:

Dear XXXXX XXXXX

Thank you for your email dated 5 July 2015 regarding Stody Estate.

Cross Compliance rules only apply to recipients of Single Payment Scheme or certain Rural Development scheme payment in the year in which a cross compliance breach is found.

The person prosecuted for the offences mentioned in your e-mail is not a recipient of either of these types of payment.  Therefore before RPA can take further action, it will be necessary to determine whether there [sic] a link between this person and a subsidy recipient and, if there is, whether that recipient can be considered liable for the actions of the person who committed the breaches.

Identifying whether the person prosecuted is linked to a subsidy recipient will form a key part of our investigations.

Should you have any further queries please contact us again quoting reference number XXXXX

Regards

Helen Hunter

Customer Service Centre, Operations

END

This is all very interesting. The mass illegal poisoning of birds of prey took place on Stody Estate and a Stody Estate employee, gamekeeper Allen Lambert, was convicted of these crimes and several others. But the Rural Payments Agency is still trying to determine whether there is a link between Lambert and the Stody Estate. Eh?

It’s not very convincing is it?

Perhaps the RPA should have a read of the judge’s comments about the relationship between Lambert and his (now former) employer – see here.

25
Apr
15

Henry’s Tour: Day 19

Fri 24 April Copy

Henry went for a skydance across the lawns of Holkham Hall in north Norfolk.

This place is home to Viscount Coke, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of that well-known raptor-loving organisation Songbird Survival.

In 2000, a Holkham Estate gamekeeper was prosecuted for 17 offences including the shooting of two kestrels and the poisoning of a third. He kept his job on the estate. Case write-up here.

In 2009, a dead buzzard was found at Holkham. It had been shot. The Holkham Estate put up a £500 reward for information leading to a conviction, as did the RSPB. Nobody was ever prosecuted.

Henry didn’t see any female hen harriers during his visit but he did watch a buzzard and three red kites. One kite had what some would call the ‘Malta Moult’ – a large hole blown through the feathers of one wing.

Henry thought it was time to get out of Norfolk but not before he called in for tea and cake with the legendary Richard Porter, author of the 1974 classic Flight Identification of European Raptors. More recently, Richard’s studies on the local buzzard population helped to convict Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert. Lambert had claimed that the ten poisoned buzzards found on the Stody Estate had been killed elsewhere and then ‘dumped’ on his estate in an attempt to set him up. His defence was to claim that they couldn’t possibly have been poisoned at Stody because there weren’t that many local buzzards to start with. He hadn’t banked on the evidence of one of the world’s leading raptor ID experts, who had recorded 233 buzzard sightings and had counted 73 pairs. Oops.

Thurs 23 April  Copy

 

21
Apr
15

Henry’s Tour: Day 18

Tues 21 April Copy

Henry’s back in Norfolk. If he follows that sign to its destination he may never get out of Norfolk alive.

Wonder whether, six months after the conviction of gamekeeper Allen Lambert, the Rural Payments Agency has made a decision yet on whether the illegal poisoning of 11 raptors merits a subsidy withdrawal for the minted Stody Estate?

30
Mar
15

More publicity needed for wildlife crime-related subsidy withdrawals

VL subsidy removal Sunday Mail 22 March 2015 - CopyRegular blog readers will know how difficult it is to find out whether farms and shooting estates that have a proven link with wildlife crime have had any of their agricultural subsidies withdrawn as a result of their non-compliance with the subsidy regulations.

A good example is the ridiculous on-going saga of Stody Estate in Norfolk – blog readers have, for the last six months, been asking the Rural Payments Agency about any potential subsidy withdrawal, ever since their gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of poisoning 11 birds of prey last October (see here for blog posts). We’re still non the wiser.

You’d think, given the potentially large sums of money involved, that the authorities would be shouting about these penalties from the rooftops. The realistic threat of having thousands of pounds of public money removed from your business is an excellent deterrent and is far greater than the typically pathetic fine imposed by the criminal justice system.

Another case in point is that of Ninian Johnston Stewart, the first landowner in Scotland to be convicted under the vicarious liability legislation. Johnston Stewart received a puny £675 fine for his crimes (see here). His gamekeeper, Peter Bell, convicted of poisoning a buzzard and having a stash of banned poisons capable of killing 10,000 birds received a £4,450 fine. Johnston Stewart’s miserable fine is hardly likely to see other landowners quaking in their tweeds.

However, in March we were able to blog about Johnston Stewart’s subsidy penalty, which amounted to almost £66,000 (see here). Now THAT’S a deterrent!

But where did we get this information from? We didn’t read about it in a Government press release. We didn’t read about it in the mainstream media. Nor did we read about it on SLE’s website.

The place we found it was in the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter; an excellent publication but one of specialist interest that is probably mostly only read by those with a special interest in crimes against birds of prey.

Here it is: Legal Eagle 75 March 2015

Since then, we’re only aware of a couple of other publications that have mentioned it. One, authored by RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations Ian Thomson, appeared in another specialist journal, Scottish Justice Matters Vol 3(1). This can be downloaded here:

SJM Vol 3 March 2015

The other publication that we’re aware of was much more mainstream – the Sunday Mail (22nd March 2015) had a headline-grabbing article, ‘One poisoned buzzard costs landowner £65k’.

We were pleased to be quoted in this piece, as follows:

We welcome this landmark conviction, though the criminal sanction of a £675 fine was derisory and offers little deterrent to other potential offenders. However, the civil sanction of almost £66,000 subsidy removal is a more fitting deterrent and as such we’d like to see improved transparency and publicity when these sanctions are imposed“.

Well done to the RSPB for getting the info out there in the first place, and thanks to journalist Billy Briggs for reading this blog and taking the story to a wider audience.




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