Posts Tagged ‘strychnine

30
Mar
15

Michael Johnston convicted for possession of banned poison

scales-of-justiceMichael James Johnston has been convicted at Dumfries Sheriff Court for possession of a banned poison.

Johnston, 45, of Pretoria Road, Eastriggs, Dumfriesshire, was disturbed at Dryfesdale Gate Farm in Lockerbie in April 2014. The Police were called and they found the banned poison Strychnine in his vehicle.

Strychnine is one of eight poisons banned under the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005. The other seven substances are Aldicarb, Alphachloralose, Aluminium phosphide,  Bendiocarb, Carbofuran, Mevinphos and Sodium cyanide. All eight poisons are known to have been used to poison wildlife. Anyone caught in possession of any of these can face fines of up to £5,000 and/or a six month custodial sentence.

At a hearing on 23rd March 2015 Johnston was fined £400.

Previous blogs on this case here and here.

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23
Feb
15

Scottish Government launches poisons disposal scheme

PoisonThe Scottish Government has today launched it’s promised ‘pesticides disposal scheme’ – a free service allowing those who are still in possession of these banned substances an opportunity to get rid of them without fear of consequence.

This scheme was initiated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse whilst he was still in office.

We have mixed views about the scheme.

On the one hand, it’s a proactive approach to rid Scotland of highly toxic substances that are still being used, illegally, with devastating effect on some of our raptor species, notably golden eagles, red kites, peregrines and buzzards. Only yesterday we blogged about the latest victim  -a poisoned peregrine found on a grouse moor (see here).

On the other hand, many of these poisons have been banned for years, and even being in possession of them has been an offence since 2005 (Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005), so why, ten years later, are the criminals who are still in possession of these poisons being given yet another opportunity to escape justice?

The bigger concern of these two views undoubtedly has to be that these poisons need to be removed, and that concern outweighs the lesser concern that the criminals won’t be punished, so from that perspective we welcome the new scheme.

However, what we want (expect) to see as a result of the scheme is that anybody caught with these poisons after the scheme has ended MUST be given a more serious sentence for their crime. We fully expect that even after this scheme has ended, there will still be substantial amounts of these poisons being held illegally. Why? Because the criminals who hold and use these poisons have been doing so for a long, long time, despite the legislation and despite previous amnesties, because they know there’s a good chance that they’ll get away with it. And for those who do get caught, the penalty is usually so ineffectual that the risk was worth taking anyway. Those people, when caught, must feel the full force of the law and not some pathetic fine or community service order – nothing less than a mandatory custodial sentence will do.

It’s not clear for how long the free disposal scheme will run, other than a quote from the current Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, that the scheme will be “short-lived”.

Those wishing to dispose of their banned poisons via this scheme can do so without fear of prosecution, and without their personal details being given to the authorities. The Government will be collecting data about the uptake of the scheme, but these data will be limited to the type and number of poisons handed in, the cost of the scheme, and only the first three letters of the postcode from where the poisons have been collected.

As this is a free and confidential service, there is absolutely NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for anyone to still be in possession of these poisons by the time the scheme ends. Mind you, it’s been that way for the past decade and yet….

Scottish Government press release here

Details about how to use the free disposal service here

Frequently Asked Questions about the scheme here

A list of the poisons that will be accepted by the scheme and a description of what they look like and some common generic names here

05
Feb
15

Case against Michael Johnston: part 2

scales-of-justiceCriminal proceedings against Michael Johnston have continued at Dumfries Sheriff Court.

Johnston, 45, of Eastriggs in Dumfriesshire has been accused of being in possession of the banned poison Strychnine in April 2014, as well as a number of other alleged offences. He has pleaded not guilty.

This case will continue on 24th February 2015.

Previous blog on this case here.

06
Jan
15

Subsidy penalty for convicted vicarious liability landowner

cash pileLast month we blogged about the Scottish landowner who was the first to be convicted under the new vicarious liability legislation which came in to force on 1st January 2012.

Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart of the Physgill & Glasserton Estates was found guilty of being vicariously liable for the actions of his gamekeeper, Peter Finley Bell, who had laid out a poisoned bait which killed a buzzard. Bell was also found to be in possession of three banned poisons (see here).

The landowner’s conviction was met with mixed feelings. Many of us were pleased to see a successful prosecution in what was a landmark case, but there was widespread disappointment in the derisory fine of just £675.

A number of blog commentators asked whether the landowner would also be hit by a Single Farm Payment penalty for cross compliance breaches. We weren’t able to answer that at the time, although we knew that the use of a banned poison to kill a protected wild bird would certainly merit a penalty.

Well, it turns out that Mr Johnston Stewart was indeed hit with a subsidy penalty. According to his defence agent (David McKie),

He [Johnston Stewart] had already been penalised substantially via a high five-figure deduction to his single farm payment“.

We don’t know what that “high five-figure deduction” was (presumably somewhere between £10,000 – £99,999), nor do we know how it was calculated, nor what percentage it was of his annual subsidy payment. Nevertheless, it’s good to hear that a penalty was imposed so well done to SGRPID (Scottish Government, Rural Payments & Inspections Directorate) for being on the ball.

Wouldn’t it be good if this sort of detail was easily available in the public domain? We’d like to know how these public subsidies are being distributed (or revoked) and it surely has a deterrent value for other landowners who might just be persuaded to take a closer look at what their gamekeepers are up to. A section on this in the Scottish Government’s annual wildlife crime report wouldn’t go amiss….

23
Dec
14

First conviction in landmark vicarious liability case

scales-of-justiceThe first ever prosecution under the new vicarious liability legislation concluded today with a conviction at Stranraer Sheriff Court.

Landowner Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart pleaded guilty to being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton & Physgill Estates’ gamekeeper Peter Bell, who was convicted in 2013 of laying poisoned bait (Carbofuran) which killed a buzzard, and for possession of three banned pesticides (Carbofuran, Strychnine and Alphachloralose). Bell was fined a total of £4,450 (see here). On conviction, Bell was expelled from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the Glasserton & Physgill Estates were expelled from the landowners’ representative organisation, Scottish Land & Estates.

So, what was the penalty in this landmark vicarious liability conviction? A pathetic £675! We don’t know the full details of Johnston Stewart’s plea, or if there was any mitigation, but nevertheless, a £675 fine is extremely disappointing, especially when you consider that the maximum penalty for this offence is £5,000 and /or a six month prison sentence.

Will a derisory fine of £675 act as a suitable deterrent to others? No, of course not; that’s pocket change to a wealthy landowner. It’s yet another example of why there needs to be a complete overhaul of the penalties for wildlife crime and we look forward to reading Professor Poustie’s review on this issue, which is due to be submitted to the Scottish Government early next year.

What might act as a deterrent is the reputational impact of the conviction, but only if the conviction is widely publicised. We haven’t seen anything in the press, yet. Hopefully some of the journalists who follow this blog will get something out there….

So, although this is a disappointing penalty, the fact that there has been a conviction and thus a demonstration that the legislation works, is to be welcomed. Well done to the Fiscal and all those involved with bringing this case to court.

We now have information on the second vicarious liability prosecution currently going through the system and we’ll be blogging about that one in the new year.

UPDATE 19.15hrs. The following press release has been issued by the Crown Office:

copfs logoFIRST WILDLIFE VICARIOUS LIABILITY CONVICTION IN SCOTLAND

Landowner Ninian Stewart sentenced today after pleading guilty to being vicariously liable for Peter Finley Bells’ crime of poisoning and killing of a wild bird.

Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart was convicted at Stranraer Sheriff Court on 23 December 2014 and fined a total of £675 today for four offences under Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 18A(2) makes the accused guilty of the original offence and liable to be punished accordingly.

This is the first prosecution and conviction in Scotland under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This section came into force on 1 January 2012.

Section 18A(2) created a new vicarious liability offence meaning that a person (B), who has shooting rights on or over land, or who manages or controls the exercise of such rights, can be found guilty of a relevant offence(s) committed by a person (A) while acting as the employee or agent of B.

This provision is designed to encourage landowners and employers with varying levels of responsibility in connection with shooting to be diligent and proactive in countering wildlife crime.

Stewart, the landowner of Glasserton & Physgill Estates, was convicted of being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton gamekeeper Peter Bell on land owned by Stewart and on which he held the shooting rights.

Bell was a full time Gamekeeper in the employ of Ninian Stewart when he committed the poisoning offence on 23 December 2012 at Glasserton Home Farm. He had laced the carcass of a pheasant baited with Carbofuran and set the bait in a field. A birdwatcher passing the farm saw something flapping in the field and on closer inspection found that it was a common buzzard, lying on the ground, in the last throws of life. Subsequent forensic work showed that the buzzard had died as a result of ingesting the poisoned bait.

Under section 18A(3) it is a defence for B to show that B did not know that the offence(s) was being committed by A, and that B took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence being committed.

In this case, while there was no indication that Mr Stewart instructed the commission of the offences or that he even knew about them being committed, there no evidence that Mr Stewart took any steps to exercise due diligence in respect of shooting on his Estate.

Sara Shaw, Procurator Fiscal, Wildlife and Environment said:

“There is a proactive responsibility placed on those who employ game keepers to run shooting estates, to ensure that is done within the parameters of the law.

“These offences were committed almost a year after the vicarious liability offence (under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) was introduced. Mr Stewart had adequate notice and time in which to take advice and put appropriate measures in place.

“Mr Stewart failed in his responsibilities and as a result stands convicted of the killing of a wild bird.

“The law specifically protects wild birds. Those who seek to poison wild birds, or continue to possess stocks of illegal poison, and those who employ or engage the services of such persons and tolerate the commission of these offences, or who do so without taking all reasonable steps and exercising all due diligence to prevent them being committed, can fully expect to be brought to account before the courts.”

ENDS

Notes to Editor

  1. Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart (DOB 18/02/1948) of Newton Stewart pleaded guilty on 23 December 2014 at Stranraer Sheriff Court to four offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as below.

(001) on 23rd December 2012 on or in relation to land at Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 1(1)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did intentionally or recklessly kill a wild bird, namely a common buzzard in that he set the carcass of a pheasant baited with poison, namely carbofuran after which said buzzard did ingest said Carbofuran and did poison said buzzard whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence;

CONTRARY to Section 1(1)(a) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 1: £150 (reduced from £200)

(002) between 23rd December 2012 and 5th March 2013 both dates inclusive on or in relation to land at Physgill Cottage, Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 15A(1) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did have in his possession a pesticide, namely Carbofuran containing a prescribed ingredient within the terms of the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005/66, Article 2 and the Schedule, namely Carbofuran whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence; CONTRARY to Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 2: £225 (reduced from £300)

(003) on 05 March 2013 on or in relation to land at Physgill Cottage, Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 15A(1) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did have in his possession a pesticide, namely Strychnine containing a prescribed ingredient within the terms of the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005/66, Article 2 and the Schedule, namely Strychnine whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being

a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence;

CONTRARY to Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 3: £75 (reduced from £100)

(004) on 05 March 2013 on or in relation to land at Physgill Cottage, Glasserton Home Farm, Whithorn, Newton Stewart, Peter Finley Bell, a person then acting as your employee or agent, did commit a relevant offence as defined by Section 18A(6)(a) of the aftermentioned Act, namely an offence under Section 15A(1) of the aftermentioned Act, in that he did have in his possession a pesticide, namely alphachloralose containing a prescribed ingredient within the terms of the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005/66, Article 2 and the Schedule, namely alphachloralose whereby you NINIAN ROBERT HATHORN JOHNSTON STEWART, being a person who has and who manages or controls the exercise of a legal right to kill or take a wild bird on or over that land, are guilty of an offence;

CONTRARY to Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended

And it is hereby certified in terms of section 20 of the aforementioned Act that evidence sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor to warrant proceedings came to his knowledge on 17th July 2013

Charge 4: £225 (reduced from £300)

  1. Peter Finley Bell (DOB 11/02/1951) from Whithorn, Newton Stewart was fined £4,450 on 18 June 2013 after pleading guilty to four charges contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981: one contravention of section 1(1)(a) (killing a wild bird) and three contraventions of section 15A (possession of an illegal pesticide). He was fined £2,450 for killing the buzzard (reduced from £3,500 to reflect his plea of guilty); £1,400 for possession of Carbuforan (reduced from £2,000) and £300 on each charge for possession of Strychnine and Alphachloralose (reduced from £500 on each charge).

END

MEDIA COVERAGE

BBC news here

Galloway Gazette names Sheriff Kenneth Robb here

Scottish Land & Estates: an extraordinary statement here. Glasserton & Physgill Estates were expelled from SLE in 2013, following the conviction of gamekeeper Bell (see here). Reading SLE’s defensive response to the conviction of landowner Johnston Stewart, you have to wonder…..

Journal of the Law Society of Scotland here

Scottish Daily Mail here

UPDATE 6th January 2015: Landowner hit with a five-figure subsidy penalty (here)

09
Dec
14

First vicarious liability prosecution: part 4

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings continued yesterday against Mr Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston-Stewart in the first known vicarious liability prosecution under the WANE Act 2011.

Mr Johnston-Stewart, the landowner of Glasserton & Physgill Estates, is charged with being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton gamekeeper Peter Bell, who was convicted in 2013 of laying poisoned bait which killed a buzzard (Carbofuran), and for possession of three banned pesticides (Carbofuran, Strychnine and Alphacloralose) (see here).

Yesterday’s intermediate diet was continued, with another intermediate diet scheduled for 23rd December 2014.

Previous blogs on this case here, here and here

04
Nov
14

First vicarious liability prosecution: part 3

scales of justiceCriminal proceedings continued today against Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart in the first known vicarious liability prosecution under the WANE Act 2011.

Mr Johnston Stewart, the landowner of Glasserton & Physgill Estates, is charged with being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton gamekeeper Peter Bell, who was convicted in 2013 of laying poisoned bait which killed a buzzard (Carbofuran) and possession of three banned pesticides (Carbofuran, Strychnine and Alphacloralose) (see here).

Today’s hearing was continued for an intermediate diet on 8th December 2014.

Previous blogs on this case here and here




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