Posts Tagged ‘trap

23
May
18

Red kite suffers horrific injuries from illegal gin trap

From Powys County Times, 22 May 2018:

ABERYSTWYTH: ILLEGAL GIN TRAP LEADS TO DEATH OF RED KITE

An RSPCA appeal for information has been launched following the death of a red kite caught by an illegal gin trap.

RSPCA Cymru was alerted after the poor bird of prey was found bleeding, and with broken legs, in the trap on the B4340, near New Cross and Abermadwr on May 7.

The caller who found the bird transferred the animal to a local veterinary practice on Park Avenue, where it was confirmed that the legs had been broken by the trap.

Sadly, the vet was left with no choice but to put the bird to sleep to prevent further suffering.

Gin traps, such as the device used in this incident, are spring-operated and illegal to set and use, although not illegal to own. It is also illegal to set any spring trap in the open or on top of a post.

The RSPCA say they are following a line of inquiry about the placing of the trap – but are calling on the local community in Aberystwyth to get in touch should they have any relevant information.

RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben said: “These gin traps were made illegal to set many years ago and yet shockingly are still being used to catch animals. They are indiscriminate and sadly this red kite is the latest victim.

The potential consequences of these devices for animals and humans are so severe. I shudder to think what could have happened had a toddler, for example, crossed the path of this trap.

We are following a line of inquiry on this incident but are eager for more information to come to light as to the circumstances behind this illegal trap being put down.

The RSPCA’s inspectorate appeal line can be reached on 0300 123 8018, and all calls are treated in confidence.”

ENDS

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20
Apr
18

SNH issues licence for mass raven cull in 5-year ‘experiment’

To the utter disbelief of conservationists, statutory conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued a licence authorising the mass killing of ravens in a large area of Perthshire (an area identified as a wildlife crime hotspot where six satellite-tagged eagles have suspiciously disappeared in recent years), as part of a proposed five-year experiment, on the basis of ‘seeing what happens’ to wader populations when ravens are removed.

The licence has been issued to a consortium calling itself the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (SCCW) which, according to the licence application, ‘represents some of the local land management (farmers, gamekeepers) and private interests in the area who value wading birds for their biodiversity, social and economic value to the area and to Scotland more widely. The application is supported by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and technical advice and support, notably data gathering and interpretation, is being provided by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)‘.

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

The following has been written by a group of Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) members as a guest blog:

STRATHBRAAN RAVEN LICENCE

The news about the missing white tailed sea eagle disappearing in Glen Quaich on Tuesday 17th April could sadly not have been more timely as Scottish Natural Heritage, (SNH), have issued a licence to several estates in the Strathbraan area in Perthshire, including Glen Quaich Estate, for the killing of 300 ravens in a large scale trial over five years to see if wader productivity and populations can be improved by removing raven predation.

The manner in which the government’s statutory nature conservation agency have conducted themselves has come as a shock and there is grave concern about the mis-application of science, the lack of consultation with key stakeholders, such as the RSPB and SRSG, their choice of estate partners and the lack of transparency, trust and honesty, and even seasoned SNH watchers are aghast.

We have raised our concerns and are unhappy with the response so far and have resorted to writing this blog to make the matters public. Following the “suspicious” disappearance of the white tailed sea eagle and the fact the police are describing this as ‘an illegal act’ we call upon SNH to conduct a review and if the circumstances fulfil what we consider to be the established criteria set out in SNH’s own report then we expect the licence to be withdrawn.

Our concerns focus on three areas, firstly the choice of partners:-

Firstly when selecting a trial area why would you choose an area dominated by driven grouse shooting with a history of illegal raptor persecution? What message does this send out to the many law-abiding estates? Is it that persecution will enable you to ‘cut a deal’ with the statutory nature conservation body? Cynics might suggest this is more about an opportunity to kill ravens in an attempt to protect red grouse stocks and it could also be argued that a licence has been issued to kill one species of bird to enable another bird to be shot for fun.

[Map of proposed cull area in north Perthshire, from the licence application, running from Loch Tay in the west to the A9 in the east]:

Raptor workers over the years have been monitoring the area and can speak with authority on raptor persecution. The Scottish Government’s review of satellite-tagged golden eagles showed that four of these birds have disappeared suspiciously in this area, with a satellite-tagged red kite also disappearing in 2010. In all cases, the tags can be classed as “stopped – no malfunction” as used in the review – ie. highly suspicious.

[Map of north Perthshire showing the last known fixes of five satellite-tagged golden eagles that disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Sea Eagle Blue X also disappeared in Glen Quaich last month]:

In addition, a radio-tagged white-tailed eagle was tracked to this area, but disappeared in January 2012, while a further satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle recently similarly disappeared in Glen Quaich. An illegal clam trap was found in November 2012, while a buzzard was spring-trapped in January 2012. A red kite was found poisoned in January 2015. A raven was poisoned in 2017. In addition, licenced raptor study group members have noted a number of cases of suspicious failure of nesting attempts by hen harrier, red kite and buzzard across the area. They have also recorded a higher than usual turnover of red kites and a loss of breeding pairs at nearby sites. All of which indicates on-going illegal persecution.

Even bearing in mind these detected incidents represent an unknown proportion of actual persecution taking place, this is an area where land management practices have displayed a proven criminal intolerance to protected species, stretching back for many years. All this has been in the public domain so why did SNH press on knowing that their partners in this initiative have such a dubious record, and what level of confidence can we have in their honesty and integrity?

Secondly, science and key questions that remain unanswered:-

  • What monitoring is in place to assess that this cull will not affect the raven population status?
  • How will SNH be able to differentiate from other factors affecting the decline of waders such as other predatory pressures, the loss of suitable habitat and changes in agricultural practices?
  • What criteria will be used to differentiate between breeding and non-breeding birds? This year we have noticed that the breeding season is later than usual.
  • What allowance has been made for the immigration of immature flocks into the proposed licence area?
  • Why has the licensing decision been taken in the absence of the raven population modelling report, as it was commissioned with the sole, or at least the main, purpose of underpinning raven licensing decisions with sounder background information?
  • What is the nature and extent of the independent scrutiny that has been carried out?
  • If any raven roosts are located during the period of the licence, can we be assured that any Schedule 1 non-breeding species and other protected species (possibly also using the same roosts) will not be disturbed?
  • What safe guards are in place to ensure the numbers killed will remain within that permitted?

Thirdly, the lack of engagement

SNH are always keen to trumpet words such as ‘trust’, ‘building relationships’, ‘shared objectives’ ‘working collaboratively’ but we have seen none of this.

  • There has been no communication with SRSG workers who have been active in the proposed licence area and have many years of breeding data on ravens and raptors.
  • We understand that not all landowners/managers within the area of licence have been contacted about this licence, contrary to reassurances provided.
  • This proposed application was developed outside the much lauded ‘Working for Waders’ initiative and we only became aware of this by accident; hardly working together or building trust!
  • Under the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme raven data are submitted to SNH (who is a key partner), yet it seems this information was not included in the licence considerations, (we know this as under the permission sharing protocols raptors workers who collected the information in the first place would have had to have been consulted).

We are deeply suspicious that the lack of engagement was deliberate as SNH knew their proposal was weak and would not stand up to the rigour of an independent scientific review.

We again call upon SNH to withdraw the licence.

ENDS

It’s well known that SNH issues a number of licences every year to cull ravens where they are considered a ‘serious threat’ to livestock (e.g. see here, here) but these are apparently for a limited cull, not related to game management and supposedly based on sound scientific evidence of a perceived local problem.

It’s also well known that gamekeepers have long wanted ravens to be added to the General Licence (e.g. see here, here) because they are seen as a perceived threat to grouse stocks.

It’s also well known that ravens are routinely demonised in the press, including this outrageous piece published by the BBC (see here, and well worth a read to understand the hysteria whipped up around this protected species).

However, this latest licence authorising a multi-year mass culling of ravens over a large area for spurious reasons (and apparently very little, if any, scientific justification) is unprecedented. That it also happens to be a well-known raptor persecution hotspot just adds to the lunancy of this situation.

If you share the concerns of the SRSG members, please consider sending an email to Mike Cantlay, SNH Chair, calling on him to withdraw the licence with immediate effect. Emails to: chair@snh.gov.uk

UPDATE 14.20hrs: Thanks to the blog reader who brought this article to our attention, reporting on the results of a scientific study that dispels many of the myths associated with ravens and wader population declines. And here is the scientific peer-reviewed paper by Amar et al that specifically warns against making predator control licensing decisions without a thorough evaluation of the evidence.

UPDATE 21 April 2018: A quote from SNH Head of Wildlife, Robbie Kernahan:

We understand the concerns over wildlife crime in Strathbraan, but we are also clear that the granting of this licence is wholly unconnected to the issues concerned.

This licence is about a pressing and complex conservation issue. It  is a large-scale collaborative trial which will help improve our understanding of factors affecting key wader species, populations of which are declining at an alarming rate. We are satisfied this licence will not affect the population of ravens overall, and is over a five year period.

The licence places significant responsibility and expectations on all those involved – to be able to show that this approach can work and will help deliver what are essentially shared objectives.

Trust is a key element of this and this presents a great opportunity to develop that trust and relationships with all involved. If it becomes apparent that actions are not being carried out in accordance with the terms of any licence then we will have no hesitation in removing the licence“.

UPDATE 21 April 2018: A quote from RSPB Scotland Head of Species & Land Managament, Duncan Orr-Ewing:

We are extremely concerned about the likely scale on impact of this research licence on the local raven population in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire. We are also very surprised that SNH have issued such a research licence  in the vicinity of Strathbraan, which has an appalling  and well documented track record of illegal persecution of raptors, noting also the very recent “suspicious” disappearance of a satellite tagged white-tailed eagle in this very same area.

We, together with local raptor workers who have been monitoring ravens in the area for decades, could have helped SNH with this background detail to the licence application if we had been consulted.

We will be seeking a high level meeting with SNH shortly to discuss. We will be pressing for the research licence to be revoked on the back of the white-tailed eagle incident, and instead consideration given by SNH to removing the use of the Open General Licence in this area, as is within their powers“.

UPDATE 22 April 2018: Raven cull update and what you can do to help (here)

UPDATE 23 April 2018: Article published in The National (here)

UPDATE 23 April 2018: Article published in The Herald (here)

UPDATE 23 April 2018: RSPB Scotland blog in response to raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 25 April 2018: OneKind blog in response to raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 25 April 2018: Chris Packham’s response to raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 26 April 2018: Is the raven cull licence still active whilst SNH review takes place? (here)

UPDATE 26 April 2018: SNH refuses to say whether raven cull licence has been suspended (here)

UPDATE 27 April 2018: Green MSPs seek urgent meeting with SNH re: raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 27 April 2018: ‘No justification’ for raven cull licence, says RSPB Scotland Director (here)

UDATE 28 April 2018: Raven cull licence: SGA evasive on benefits to grouse moors (here)

UPDATE 1 May 2018: Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders: who’s involved? (here)

UPDATE 4 May 2018: Raven cull: next steps to take as SNH blunders on (here)

UPDATE 7 May 2018: “Let’s have more trials [culls] whether it’s about ravens or other things” says SNH (here)

UPDATE 8 May 2018: Parliamentary questions lodged on raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 9 May 2018: Alison Johnstone MSP lodges Parliamentary motion on raven cull licence (here)

UPDATE 12 May 2018: Raven cull: please ask your MSP to support this Parliamentary motion (here)

UPDATE 23 May 2018: Raven cull update: scientific advisory committee not being asked to repeal licence (here)

UPDATE 23 May 2018: Raven cull: Parliamentary questions and answers (here)

16
Apr
18

Why other evidence was also ruled inadmissible in the Bleasdale Estate case

This is the third blog in a series about the recent failed prosecution of a Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper.

Gamekeeper James Hartley was accused of nine offences in relation to the alleged killing of two peregrines at a nest site on the Bleasdale Estate, Bowland, in April 2016. He denied all charges.

In blog 1, we outlined the prosecution’s case against Mr Hartley, and the skeleton argument put forward by the defence (see here).

In blog 2 we examined why the judge ruled the RSPB’s covert video evidence inadmissible (see here).

In this blog we examine why other evidence was also ruled inadmissible by the judge. This relates to two points: (1) the legality of the first search of the nest site and surrounding grouse moor on 21 April 2016, and (2) the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act in relation to the way the RSPB handled the ‘data’ (recordings made by the video camera).

Let’s start with the land search. Here is an extract from the judge’s ruling on this point:

Basically Mr Rouse QC for the defence argued that the Police and the RSPB breached Code B of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) because they did not notify the landowner of their intention to search the nest site area and surrounding grouse moor.

It seems to us that the Police and RSPB did not notify the landowner due to the exemption listed under 6.4 (iii) (see above) because ‘there are reasonable grounds for believing that alerting the occupier or any other person entitled to grant access would frustrate the object of the search….’

This exemption is routinely used by the police in wildlife crime cases like this one, for obvious reasons. If the landowner, or an employee, was suspected of either committing, or being complicit to an alleged wildlife crime, telling them in advance that a search was about to be conducted would alert any potential suspect who could then hide any evidence in advance of that search.

In this specific case, had the landowner been notified of the search in advance, what do you think would be the chance of the police finding the tool bag & equipment, found on a later search of the defendant’s house and outbuildings, and found on subsequent forensic DNA analysis to contain peregrine DNA?!

That’s an obvious point, isn’t it?

Well apparently not. Mr Yip for the prosecution did not raise this point and nor did he call for a live witness to explain to the court why the exemption applied in this case. The judge was left with no option but to rule a breach of the PACE code.

The other line in the defence’s argument was that the RSPB Investigator (name redacted) had breached the Data Protection Act as he wasn’t a registered data controller:

Mr Yip for the prosecution submitted that the RSPB Investigator did not need an individual licence of registration as he was operating lawfully under the collective registration licence of the RSPB. He wasn’t acting an an individual, but as an employee of a registered organisation. Unfortunately, the collective registation document was not submitted to the court as evidence. As the judge said in her ruling:

Without the evidence, and in the absence of live witnesses to address the point, how am I supposed to be satisfied that what the Crown say is indeed correct?“.

Again, she was left with no other option than to rule a breach of the Data Protection Act.

What a bloody shambles.

As you’ve seen from blog 2 and this blog, the collapse of this case on a series of technicalities was wholly avoidable had the prosecution got its act together.

Now we wait to see whether legal advice will allow the RSPB to release the video footage, which is believed to show one of the peregrines frantically struggling for more than ten hours on the nest ledge as it tried to escape the jaws of an allegedly illegally-set trap clamped around its leg.

Perhaps when the public sees this footage they’ll understand why the defence went to such lengths to have this evidence ruled inadmissible.

And perhaps when the public sees the footage they’ll gain an insight as to why peregrines are doing so badly on many driven grouse moors in northern England and Scotland.

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

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)

12
Apr
18

Injured buzzard rescued from trap, rehabbed & released back to the wild

Great partnership working by North Yorkshire Police, RSPCA and Jean Thorpe (Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre) resulted in an injured buzzard being released from a trap, rehabilitated and then released back to the wild.

There’s no information about the type of trap, whether it was illegally-set, or the extent of the buzzard’s injuries, but still a job well done by all concerned.

Read the full press release and watch the video of the buzzard’s release on North Yorkshire Police website here

Police Wildlife Crime Officer Jez Walmsley prepares to release the buzzard (photo by Jean Thorpe)

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)

02
Apr
18

Illegal trap use on GWCT Vice Chair’s shooting estate

Well, well, well.

Last September we blogged about SNH imposing a three-year General Licence restriction on a ‘mystery’ Scottish gamekeeper in response to evidence provided by Police Scotland of alleged raptor persecution crimes. At the time, SNH gave very little information about this case (see here).

After a bit of digging, we worked out that this restriction related to an alleged crime that had happened near Tarland in Aberdeenshire in 2014 where the RSPB had filmed a gamekeeper allegedly baiting an illegal trap close to a goshawk nest:

However, we were unable to establish the name of the estate on which this alleged offence took place and the name of the individual caught on camera setting the trap, as SNH refused several FoI requests and insisted on withholding the information. The name of the individual was withheld under the Data Protection Act – that was fair enough. But we argued that the name of the estate should have been publicised – SNH disagreed.

An article by Severin Carrell in today’s Guardian has finally solved the mystery.

It turns out the individual filmed setting the alleged illegal trap was none other than the Head Gamekeeper of Tillypronie Estate, a grouse and pheasant-shooting estate which at the time was owned by Philip Astor, who was and still is, er, Vice Chair of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

[Estate boundary details from Andy Wightman’s brilliant Who Owns Scotland website]

Gosh, that’s all a bit embarrassing for the GWCT, isn’t it?

Is this why there wasn’t a prosecution and why great efforts were made to keep the details of this alleged crime hushed up?

We wonder if this relationship also had any bearing on SNH’s strange decision to impose a General Licence restriction on an individual, as opposed to the usual practice of imposing it on an estate? Astor sold the estate last year – here is the sales brochure: Tillypronie sales brochure Aug 2016 A three-year General Licence restriction hanging over the estate could have caused obvious difficulties for the sale.

Another unanswered question relates to the Head Gamekeeper’s employment status. The alleged crime took place in March 2014, but according to Sev Carrell’s article, the [unnamed] Head Gamekeeper was still employed at Tillypronie in 2016. That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Why would a law-abiding landowner continue to employ an individual who had been caught on camera setting an allegedly illegal trap close to a goshawk nest?

And what of Philip Astor’s position as Vice Chair at the GWCT? Business as usual, eh?




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