Posts Tagged ‘vicarious liability

22
Oct
19

Is SNH about to impose a General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate?

Last week RSPB Scotland published a blog called ‘Why vicarious liability is failing to have an impact in Scotland‘.

Written by Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species & Land Management, it’s the latest in a series, following on from the excellent blog challenging the Scottish Gamekeepers’ ignorance on satellite tags, written by Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland.

Duncan’s blog is well worth a read. It questions the Crown Office’s recent decision not to prosecute anyone for alleged vicarious liability following the conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson for a series of barbaric wildlife crimes on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders.

It also considers the potential benefits of having the threat of a vicarious liability prosecution, and how this may have driven down the use of illegal poisons as a method of killing raptors, but been replaced by shooting and trapping methods which are much harder to detect.

The really interesting part of the blog, as far as we’re concerned, is the section on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. Blog readers will recall this is where a male hen harrier was found with an almost severed leg caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to his nest earlier this summer. Despite the heroic efforts of a number of experts, he didn’t survive. The estate denied all knowledge and responsibility and nobody has been charged.

[The trapped hen harrier found on Leadhills Estate. Photo by Scottish Raptor Study Group]

Regular blog readers will know this poor hen harrier is not the only victim reported from the Leadhills Estate. The list is long and goes back more than a decade (e.g. scroll down this page). Duncan’s blog discusses some of the most recent incidents including the witnessed shooting of a hen harrier in May 2017; the witnessed shooting of a short-eared owl just a few weeks later and whose body was recovered; the discovery of a buzzard in 2018 that was found to have been shot twice; and the filmed buzzard that according to the RSPB was likely killed in a crow trap in January 2019.

Nobody has been charged for any of the above, but significantly, Duncan’s blog says this:

“We are advised that only now is an Open General Licence restriction, another sanction in the public authority wildlife crime “toolbox”, to be imposed here”.

SNH has had the power to impose General Licence restrictions since 1 January 2014. This was instigated by former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to continuing difficulties of securing criminal prosecutions and was an instruction to SNH to withdraw the use of the General Licence (available for legal predator control) on land where crimes against raptors are believed to have taken place but where there is insufficient evidence to instigate criminal proceedings. The decision to withdraw the licence is based on the civil standard of proof which relates to the balance of probability as opposed to the higher standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

This measure is not without its limitations, particularly as estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead which allows them to continue predator control activities but under slightly closer scrutiny.

SNH has only imposed four such restrictions since 2014 – a pathetically small figure when we are aware of at least a dozen other cases where a restriction should have been applied. SNH has claimed it is ‘not in the public interest‘ to explain those failures.

We’ve looked on the SNH website to see whether Leadhills Estate has been listed as having a General Licence restriction imposed (SNH does publicise the details when it imposes the restriction) but so far Leadhills Estate is not named. Potentially the estate has been notified and is currently in the period where it may challenge SNH’s decision, as per the framework for a General Licence restriction.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 26 November 2019: SNH imposes General Licence restriction on Leadhills Estate (here)

30
Aug
19

No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate

Ten days ago Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson was sentenced for a catalogue of wildlife crime offences, including possession of the banned poison Carbofuran and the shooting of protected raptors, badgers and an otter on the Longformacus Estate in the Scottish Borders (see here).

[Criminal gamekeeper Alan Wilson, photo by Daily Record]

Very early on in this case we were aware that two individuals had been charged in relation to the crimes uncovered at Longformacus Estate (see here) and it was rumoured that the second man was facing a charge of alleged vicarious liability for Wilson’s crimes, although we were unable to verify this.

As a quick re-cap, vicarious liability was a measure introduced by the Scottish Government on 1 January 2012 as a direct and specific response to ongoing illegal raptor persecution, whereby somebody (e.g. a landowner or a sporting agent) may be held responsible for the criminal actions of an employee – see here for a more detailed explanation.

Following Wilson’s conviction and then subsequent sentencing earlier this month, we were keen to find out whether the Crown Office was now pursuing a charge of alleged vicarious liability against any individual associated with the management of Longformacus Estate. Last week we wrote to the Crown Office for clarification and this is the response received yesterday:

So, here we are yet again.

No prosecution for anyone associated with the management of Longformacus Estate where gamekeeper Alan Wilson was able to commit crime after crime after crime after crime, apparently without his boss(es) noticing.

For a defence of a charge of alleged vicarious liability, the gamekeeper’s boss(es) would need to show that (a) s/he/they did not know the offence was being committed; AND (b) that s/he/they took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence(s) being committed. Without knowing the full facts and circumstances of this case it is impossible for us to judge whether the Crown Office’s decision not to pursue a charge was sensible, but it has to be said that given the extent and duration of Wilson’s criminal activities, it would have been very interesting indeed to have heard his bosses’ interpretation and explanation of ‘all due diligence’.

We’ll probably never know why the Crown Office chose not to proceed – it is under no obligation to offer any explanation to the public. However, this latest decision really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody – remember, this is the same Crown Office that dropped five prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution in quick succession in 2017 (see here), even including several cases where RSPB video footage had captured the crimes on camera! Those decisions not to proceed with prosecutions hailed the start of what has now become complete exasperation at the authorities’ failure to take on many cases linked to wildlife crime on game-shooting estates.

The Crown’s decision not to pursue criminal proceedings in relation to the crimes committed at Longformacus Estate also further entrenches the view that vicarious liability as a measure for tackling ongoing raptor persecution is a resounding failure. Introduced seven and a half years ago on 1 Jan 2012, only two successful prosecutions have been secured: one in Dec 2014 (here) and one in Dec 2015 (here). A third case in Oct 2015 was dropped because the authorities couldn’t identify the estate’s management structure (here) and a fourth case was abandoned in April 2017 because the Crown said ‘it wasn’t in the public interest to continue’ (here).

Who thinks that two successful cases in 7.5 years is a measure of success? Perhaps if raptor persecution crimes weren’t still being committed then vicarious liability might have been viewed as a success in terms of its deterrent value but it’s quite clear, given the ongoing reports of persecution, that landowners and sporting agents are probably increasingly confident of evading prosecution and the Crown’s decision on the Longformacus Estate will only strengthen that view.

The question now is, for how many more years do we have to sit and watch the pathetic failure of vicarious liability as a measure to combat raptor persecution? The Scottish Government can no longer rely on this as an indication of its commitment to tackling these crimes. Sure, when introduced in 2012 it was done in good faith and with the best of intentions but it is quite clear for all to see that, for whatever reason, it isn’t working, and the Scottish Government needs to acknowledge this failure and find out why it’s failing and get it fixed.

It’s not just convicted gamekeeper Alan Wilson sticking up two fingers to our law-abiding society.

The topic of vicarious liability was raised at the recent SNP Conference Fringe meeting on grouse moor reform (here) as well as the Revive Coalition’s conference in Perth (here) and caused quite a stir amongst delegates and panellists at both events. It’s an issue we’re likely to follow up with several interested MSPs.

Meanwhile, Chris Packham’s petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting is doing exceptionally well, just two weeks after launching. It has now attracted over 81,000 signatures but is likely to fall if it doesn’t reach 100,000 signatures by Sept 9th, thanks to the current shenanigans at Westminster (if Parliament is suspended all unfinished business, including live petitions, will fall). If you haven’t yet signed, please do so HERE. Thank you.

 

19
Aug
19

Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson

In July this year, Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, then 60, pleaded guilty to nine of 12 charges of wildlife crime at Henlaw Wood on Longformacus Estate in the Borders (see here).

[Convicted wildlife criminal Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Photo by ITV Border]

Wilson’s crimes included the shooting and killing of two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2016 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of setting 23 illegal snares and possession of two bottles of the highly toxic (and banned pesticide) Carbofuran (see here).

[SSPCA photos]

Following Wilson’s guilty plea, the Sheriff adjourned sentencing for a few weeks to allow reports to be submitted.

Soon after his conviction, Scottish Land & Estates issued a statement of condemnation and claimed the Longformacus Estate was being managed for low ground pheasant shooting but in its desperation to avoid any bad publicity of grouse moor management, completely failed to mention that part of the estate was also managed as a grouse moor. Here’s a photograph of Henlaw Wood (now felled) and its proximity to the grouse moor:

[Original photo by Richard Webb; additional text by RPUK]

Alan Wilson, now 61, was sentenced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court this afternoon. Astonishingly (or not!), despite his litany of violent crimes against protected raptors and mammals which easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, Wilson has dodged jail, has dodged a fine, and instead has been issued with a 10-month curfew and an instruction to carry out 225 hours of unpaid work as part of a Community Payback Scheme. His firearms and other equipment was confiscated (it’s not clear for how long).

This monumentally inadequate sentence is in no way a reflection of the severity or extent of Wilson’s crimes, nor does it offer a suitable deterrent for other would-be offenders. According to this article in the Guardian by Sev Carrell, Sheriff Peter Paterson acknowledged that Wilson’s offending warranted a custodial sentence but said that as the Wildlife & Countryside Act only allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish Ministers had recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months, he felt he had no choice but to impose a different sentence.

This doesn’t make sense to us. Sure, the W&CA does, currently, impose a limit of six months but that’s six months per offence, so in Wilson’s case, where he had pleaded guilty to multiple offences, this would have amounted to much more than one six-month sentence and so in our opinion, he should have received a custodial sentence. We don’t know if this sentence will be appealed by the Crown Office – it must first be satisfied that the sentence was unduly lenient (e.g. see here). We’ll have to wait and see.

What is absolutely crystal clear is that the Scottish Government needs to get on and implement the penalty increases for wildlife crimes that it agreed to do way back in 2016.

This is Wilson’s second conviction in relation to offences at Longformacus Estate: in February 2018 he was sentenced to a £400 fine and disqualified from keeping birds of prey for ten years after he was convicted of animal welfare offences in relation to an Eagle Owl he had kept in appalling conditions (see here).

We don’t know whether Wilson’s employer (which may be a landowner or a sporting agent) will face a charge of alleged vicarious liability. We know that two individuals were originally charged with alleged offences at Longformacus Estate (e.g. see here) but we don’t yet have any more details. We will be following up on this and will report here if there is news. [Please note: if you are commenting on this aspect of the crimes at Longformacus Estate, remember there is a potential defence to any allegation of vicarious liability – Wilson’s employer is not automatically guilty just because he was Wilson’s employer].

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has, after months of refusing to comment, now finally admitted that Wilson was indeed an SGA member when he committed these wildlife crimes. Here is the SGA statement posted today:

We’ll be discussing Wilson’s SGA membership in a later post.

It is not clear to us whether the Longformacus Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates. So far SLE hasn’t issued a statement about today’s sentencing. Instead, it’s website is leading with an article with the unfortunate headline, ‘Making it Happen’.

More on this soon.

It only remains to acknowledge the huge efforts of all those involved in detecting, investigating and prosecuting this case. This successful conviction was the result of genuine partnership working between the League Against Cruel Sports, Scottish SPCA, RSPB Scotland, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, along with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, SASA, and veterinary pathologists from Scottish Agricultural College. Well done and thanks to all those involved in exposing this filthy criminal activity on yet another grouse moor.

Wildlife crime is endemic on many grouse moors. We see it over and over again and we also see the offenders escape justice time and time again. If you’d like to help bring it to an end, please consider signing this new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – PLEASE SIGN HERE

UPDATE 30 August 2019: No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate (here).

23
Jul
19

Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson & his litany of wildlife crimes

Further to the news yesterday that Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, 60, had pleaded guilty to nine of the 12 charges of wildlife crime against him (see here), here is some further detail.

From The Times (by Robert Fairburn):

Gamekeeper killed protected birds, badger and otter

A gamekeeper shot dead badgers and buzzards and set dozens of illegal snares in Scottish woodland in what one wildlife expert described as the greatest cull of protected species he had ever seen.

Alan Wilson, 60, has pleaded guilty to priming 23 illegal snares in a small wood on the Berwickshire estate where he worked. A court was told that the League Against Cruel Sports had been tipped off by a member of the public out hiking that snares were being operated at Henlaw Wood on the Longformacus Estate.

[RPUK map of the location of Longformacus Estate]

In March 2016 a research officer found snares and a “stink pit” containing a pile of dead animals designed to attract other animals. A year later he returned and found the carcass of a badger and dead birds.

The site was visited by police officers and Scottish SPCA officers when the full catalogue of shot protected species emerged.

David Anderson, conservation manager for the Forestry Commission Scotland, attended Henlaw Wood, which is 550 metres in length, and wrote in his report: “In 40 years working in wildlife management I have never seen so many protected species dead in such a small area.”

Jedburgh sheriff court was told that Wilson was the sole gamekeeper for the Longformacus estate. He had worked as a gamekeeper in France for ten years before returning to Scotland and lived on the estate with his partner.

Wilson pleaded guilty to shooting and killing two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2006 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of using illegal snares and possession of two bottles of carbofuran.

Wilson was fined £400 last year and banned from keeping birds of prey for ten years after admitting failing to protect an eagle owl in his care from suffering. He had pleaded guilty to keeping the pet bird in filthy conditions in a pigsty at his home in Longformacus [see here for RPUK blog on that case].

Wilson admitted nine offences and will be sentenced next month [19th August we believe] after background reports are prepared. Sheriff Peter Paterson told him: “These charges are serious and numerous and before I decide on an appropriate sentence I will need a report to see what sentencing options are open to me. Society, whatever you may think, takes a dim view on this.”

There has been growing debate about Scotland’s grouse moors. Chris Packham, the naturalist and broadcaster, has urged ministers to introduce a strict licensing system on moors, with powers to ban shooting estates where protected species are vanishing. A Scottish government review of grouse moor practices is expected to be published within weeks.

ENDS

It’ll be all eyes on Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 19th August when this criminal gamekeeper is sentenced. We believe the custody threshold has been easily met and given the range of offences against these protected species, in addition to being found in possession of the highly toxic (and thus banned) pesticide Carbofuran, only a custodial sentence will suffice.

There have been questions asked about Wilson’s employer and whether a charge of alleged vicarious liability is being pursued. We believe there is currently a live investigation on this and as such we won’t be blogging about it, or accepting comments specifically about it, until proceedings have concluded.

The conviction of gamekeeper Alan Wilson can now be discussed, however. We look forward to finding out whether he is/was a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and if so, how they explain his appetite for illegally killing protected raptors and mammals, why he was setting illegal snares and why he had two bottles of Carbofuran in his possession.

Presumably the SGA knew nothing of Wilson’s crimes, which begs the question, how can the SGA make so many claims about the number of supposedly law-abiding gamekeepers when they haven’t got a clue what those gamekeepers are up to, nor do they have sufficient influence to prevent them committing wildlife crimes?

Over to you, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg…..

Previous blogs about this case: herehere here  here herehere, here, here, here here.

UPDATE: 24 July 2019: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to conviction of Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson? (see here).

 

29
Aug
18

Whernside Estate retains membership of Moorland Association

Following on from yesterday’s news that gamekeeper Timothy Cowin had been convicted for shooting and then sadistically stamping to death two protected short-eared owls on a grouse moor on the Whernside Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here), public anger has been justifiably prominent.

Many have commented on Cowin’s pathetic sentence (a £1,210 fine) but there has also been considerable commentary on social media about why the landowner hasn’t also been prosecuted.

If these crimes had taken place in Scotland, there would have been an opportunity to prosecute the landowner and/or shooting agent for alleged vicarious liability, following the introduction of the WANE Act 2011. Although in Scotland a prosecution may not have followed automatically, especially if the landowner and/or agent was able to show due diligence, or if the landowner couldn’t be identified, or if the prosecutors deemed it wasn’t in the public interest to proceed. Since the legislation was enacted on 1 January 2012, six and a half years ago, there have only been two successful prosecutions for vicarious liability in relation to raptor persecution (here and here); two others have failed (here and here) and others simply haven’t been considered for reasons that haven’t been made clear to us (e.g. see here).

However, as Whernside Estate is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, not in Scotland, there is no hope that a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability will follow in this case.

[RPUK Map showing location of Whernside Estate, which is located in the county of Cumbria but also lies within the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park]

So with no prospect of a further prosecution, the least that could be expected would be for the grouse moor owners’ lobby group, the Moorland Association, to expel the Whernside Estate from the ranks of its membership, right?

Well, no. The Moorland Association has done the exact opposite and has instead chosen to publish a statement in support of Whernside Estate and confirmed the estate’s continued membership in the Moorland Association:

Amanda Anderson’s justification for not expelling Whernside Estate rests with the Moorland Association’s “satisfaction” that the estate had taken “all appropriate measures” to ensure its staff acted within the law and this included written correspondence between the estate and gamekeeper Cowin. Without seeing this correspondence it’s impossible to know whether this evidence would have been sufficient to meet the standards of due diligence required as a defence against vicarious liability in Scotland. It’s our understanding that in Scotland, this correspondence may not be enough to demonstrate due diligence, and other measures may also be required such as the landowner and/or agent undertaking spot checks on their employees and having a written record of those checks.

It’s fairly apparent from the detail we do know about Cowin’s case that had adequate spot checks been undertaken, questions would have been raised about Cowin being in possession of a plastic peregrine decoy, and importantly, his possession of a calling device that had been loaded with the calls of several raptor species, presumably to be used to entice raptors, perhaps towards a plastic decoy, where they could then be shot at close range.

Unfortunately we’ll never get to hear about the details of the estate’s claimed supervision of Cowin because, as there’s no provision for a potential prosecution for alleged vicarious liability in relation to raptor persecution in England, the estate doesn’t have to present this information to the authorities for scrutiny. We only have the word of the Moorland Association, which, of course, has a long track record of denying the bleedin’ obvious.

But let’s take the word of the Moorland Association, and the Whernside Estate, at face value and assume that Cowin’s crimes were as abhorrent to them as they are to the rest of us. That leads to a very interesting question. Two questions, in fact.

Firstly, no matter what claims the Moorland Association makes in all these so-called ‘partnership’ meetings trying to combat illegal raptor persecution, the Moorland Association, and its members, have absolutely no control or influence over gamekeepers working on grouse moors. Cowin is a perfect example of this. If, as the MA and the Whernside Estate claims, Cowin had undergone training, refresher training, and had signed an employment contract undertaking to work within the law, he STILL went on to commit these crimes. So what, exactly, is the point of the Moorland Association attending these ‘partnership’ meetings if it can’t offer any guarantees that gamekeepers won’t kill raptors on grouse moors?

[Gamekeeper Cowin, leaving Whernside Moor after shooting and stamping on two short-eared owls and hiding their corpses. Photo by Guy Shorrock]

Secondly, if the Whernside Estate was “dismayed” at Cowin’s actions of shooting and then stamping on those two short-eared owls, and being in possession of a calling device with raptor calls loaded on to it, did the Whernside Estate pay for Cowin’s legal representation?

Cowin’s solicitor was Michael Kenyon. Mr Kenyon was unlikely to have been a random duty solicitor called in to the police station to represent Cowin when he was questioned and later charged. Mr Kenyon is a well known figure in the game shooting world and is considered a ‘leading expert’ in firearms law and wildlife crime and once served as the legal advisor to the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (see here) so it seems likely that he was chosen specifically to defend Cowin based on his expertise.

We had thought that perhaps Cowin’s legal representation costs had been covered by his presumed membership of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, especially given Mr Kenyon’s links, but according to a tweet from the NGO this morning, Cowin “was not and never has been a member of the NGO“. So it would seem unlikely the NGO paid.

Did Cowin himself pay for Mr Kenyon’s legal services? Perhaps, but this seems unlikely given what the court heard yesterday about Cowin’s financial means.

Was Cowin a member of another ‘professional’ group whose membership dues include the cost of legal representation if faced with a prosecution in relation to gamekeeping activities? We don’t know.

Did the Whernside Estate pay for Cowin’s legal representation? We don’t know that either, but we do know that somebody accompanied Cowin to several court appearances and although we cannot identify that person, it was suggested to us that it was Cowin’s boss. It may well have been, as he was certainly chatty with Mr Kenyon, heard discussing the number of grouse available to shoot on Mossdale Estate (remember them?), but equally as plausible is an explanation that it may have been a member of Cowin’s family attending court to support him.

Unfortunately we’ll never get to find out who paid for Cowin’s defence.

We were also interested in what the other ‘countryside’ organisations had to say about Cowin’s conviction. Would they all be condemning his actions and saluting the efforts of the RSPB et al in securing a successful outcome? Here’s what we found, at the time of writing this blog:

GWCT – silence

BASC – silence

NGO – silence, apart from responding to a tweet to confirm Cowin was never a member.

Countryside Alliance – silence on Cowin’s conviction but leading with the news that the prosecution of three hunting group members for alleged hunting and wildlife crime offences had been dropped, and focusing on the “wasted public resources” by “animal rights extremists” in bringing this case to trial. Interesting – we could argue the same point about the amount of wasted public resources spent in Cowin’s case as it was dragged around five different courts in NW England before his eventual guilty plea.

During our searches for commentary from the grouse shooting industry we did stumble across an article about grouse shooting on Whernside Estate that had been published in The Field magazine in 2012. Strangely, the article seems to have been removed from The Field’s website archives but fortunately we were able to find a cached version elsewhere. It makes for an interesting read, especially the bit about Headkeeper Tim Cowin working as a joiner!

UPDATE 31 August 2018: Whernside Estate: more reaction to gamekeeper’s conviction for shooting owls (here)

06
Mar
18

Stody Estate exonerated after gamekeeper’s conviction for mass raptor poisoning

Regular blog readers will remember the mass poisoning of birds of prey on the Stody Estate, Norfolk in 2013.

In October 2014, Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of a series of wildlife crime offences on the estate, 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).

Photo of nine of the buzzards poisoned by gamekeeper Lambert [photo: RSPB]

In our opinion, gamekeeper 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.

However, even though Lambert appeared to have got off lightly, his employers at Stody Estate were hit with a massive financial penalty (through cross-compliance regulations), believed to be the biggest ever civil penalty imposed for raptor persecution crimes.

Today though, the High Court has ruled that Lambert’s actions were “not directly attributable” to Stody Estate or its senior management and the subsidy penalty has been quashed!

In other words, the employer (Stody Estate) cannot be held accountable for the criminal actions of its employee (Allan Lambert). That’s quite astonishing, although it’s difficult to comment in detail without knowing the finer details of Lambert’s employment contract with Stody Estate. [UPDATE 7th March – full written judgement now available at foot of this blog post]

It does seem like yet another example of the need to introduce vicarious liability legislation for specific offences against birds of prey in England, as has been done in Scotland.

Stody Estate photo by RPUK

The following article has been published in the EDP:

A farm company was wrongly penalised after a gamekeeper poisoned wild birds of prey to preserve game birds for shooting, the High Court has ruled.

Allen Lambert poisoned 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk which he saw as a threat to 2,500 pheasants and partridges laid down for a 10-day “family shoot”.

The gamekeeper on the 4,200-acre Stody Estate in north Norfolk was convicted of an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1981 in October 2014.

And, in January last year, then Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, stripped Stody Estate Ltd of 55pc of its farm subsidy for that year.

Overturning the penalty today, a senior judge noted that there had been “no finding of fault” against the company, based in Melton Constable, or its senior management.

The mere fact of Mr Lambert’s conviction did not prove that poisoning the birds was “directly attributable” to his employer, said Mrs Justice May.

“Some further enquiry directed at the level of fault, if any, on the part of Stody Estate in connection with Mr Lambert’s actions was required,” she added.

“In the absence of any finding of fault there was no proper basis for the imposition of a penalty.”

The Stody Estate, which has 15 employees, has been farmed by the MacNicol family for 75 years and Charles MacNicol is its managing director.

Estate manager, Ross Haddow, has day to day management of the farm and Mr Lambert had been a gamekeeper since 1990, living in a tied cottage.

The Rural Payments Agency, which administers the single farm payment subsidy scheme, at first said the company should lose 75pc of its subsidy.

That was reduced to 20pc by the Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel, but the penalty was upped again, to 55pc, by Ms Leadsom last year.

Stody Estate Ltd and its management were “exonerated” from any involvement in poisoning birds, the court heard.

But Ms Leadsom concluded that “the intentional acts of Mr Lambert, acting within the scope of his employment, were to be treated as those of the farmer, being Stody Estate.”

The issue was of such importance to the farming industry that the National Farmers Union intervened in the case, arguing that the penalty could only lawfully have been imposed if Charles MacNicol, or possibly Mr Haddow, had poisoned the birds.

Mrs Justice May said that that was going too far, but nevertheless ruled that Mr Lambert’s actions could not be “directly attributed” to Stody Estate or its management. The penalty was quashed.

ENDS

UPDATE 7 March 2018: The written judgement can be read HERE (with thanks to @borobarrister)

25
Jun
17

Game shoot licensing discussed on BBC’s Landward programme today

Today’s edition of the BBC’s Landward programme had a small feature on proposals for the introduction of game shoot licensing, including contributions from Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland) and Lord David Johnstone (Scottish Land & Estates).

It is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 29 days (Episode 12, starts at 17 mins – here).

We’ve reproduced the full transcript:

Presenter, Euan Mcllwraith: “The majestic golden eagle, soaring above Scottish hills. It’s an iconic image of wild Scotland. But a Government report has found that almost a third of all golden eagles which have been tracked by satellite died in mysterious circumstances, and the majority of those cases were found on land which is managed for grouse shooting. And the demise of the golden eagles has kick-started a re-examination of the way that game shooting is managed.

Game shooting is a major contributor to the Scottish rural economy and supports jobs in rural areas. But the field sport relies on there being a large population of grouse to shoot. The report’s findings led Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham to propose an inquiry in to whether or not shooting estates should need a licence to operate.

But why would a licence protect eagles? Well at the moment, if a gamekeeper for example was caught killing a bird of prey, he might be prosecuted and in extreme cases be sent to jail, but the estate would still be allowed to carry on doing business. But the threat of a removal of a licence to operate could prove a more effective deterrent.

The proposal has delighted some groups and horrified others.

With me now are Duncan Orr-Ewing of RSPB Scotland and David Johnstone of Scottish Land & Estates.

Duncan, from your point of view, what’s the attraction of a licence, ‘cos there’s a lot of penalties at the moment, if a keeper gets convicted he goes to jail. Why a licence?”

Duncan Orr-Ewing: “Well, we very much welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s statement that she will look at options including a licensing system. The reason we support a licensing system is because we believe it will raise standards in the grouse moor sector in particular, which has a whole range of problems that have been highlighted in recent years and we think there is a need to reflect the public interest”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “David, from your point of view, you’re not in favour of licences. Why is that?”

David Johnstone: “There’s a number of reasons within that. There’s the SNH report that came out showing licensing going on around Europe, it clearly demonstrated that licensing, wildlife crime still exists in parts of Europe where licensing also takes place. But also we don’t think that it will actually be effective, we think that there are better ways of doing it that will lead to the higher standards that Duncan was talking about, creating good working relationships between ourselves and other stakeholders within, especially the Government”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “But is it not quite simple? If a nightclub has a licence, they break the rules, they go out of business. If a landowner on an estate was seen to be killing birds of prey, which does happen, you cease to have that right to run a business”.

David Johnstone: “This is a very, very different situation because within a nightclub, when a nightclub finishes business, the doors are shut and nobody else is allowed in to that nightclub at all, you control everything that’s going on. Within an estate on land in Scotland, under the 2003 Act, people have a right to roam anywhere, at any time, which we fully support, therefore you have people wandering across the land you’re managing, doing whatever they may wish to do and we have…”

Euan Mcllwraith: “Yeah, but people aren’t going to walk on to an estate and kill a bird, I mean it may happen, but the vast majority…”

David Johnstone: “I’m sorry but we have examples of people who have been interfering with legally set traps and everything else so it does happen, nefarious activity does go on, and that puts at risk people’s livelihood, their jobs, the economy, everything. You’ve got to prove you didn’t do something, as opposed to somebody proving that you did do something”.

Euan Mcllwraith: “Is that a real worry though? That an estate can go out of business, a vital part of the rural economy will cease to exist, on a very low level of proof?”

Duncan Orr-Ewing: “Look, we’re in this position because of a failure of self-regulation, despite repeated public warnings that the estate sector, particularly driven grouse moors, need to get their house in order. They have failed to deliver, that is why we’re at this point.

We believe a system of licensing can be developed, that has the right checks and balances in place, they do it in other countries, we imagine this won’t be done routinely….”

Euan Mcllwraith: “Duncan, David, I think this debate will rage for a long time to come. At the moment it’s in the hands of the Minister who will make a decision in the months and years to come”.

ENDS

When do you think Scottish Land & Estates will realise that the game’s up? That everybody, even the Scottish Government, now accepts the huge weight of evidence showing that illegal raptor persecution is undertaken as a matter of routine on many driven grouse moors?

Does David Johnstone honestly think that anybody is going to believe his inference that 41 satellite-tagged golden eagles ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors as a result of ‘nefarious activity’ undertaken by random members of the public?

If he’s so sure of this (without any supporting evidence), then presumably SLE members won’t have any problem accepting the placement of monitoring cameras at raptor nest and roost sites on driven grouse moors? You’d think they’d welcome this measure, which would clear estate gamekeepers from the frame, right? It’s funny then that certain estates continue to refuse to participate in the placement of cameras by SNH’s Heads Up for Harriers project.

Lord Johnstone has used this tactic of blaming members of the public before, when objecting to the introduction of vicarious liability. In 2012 he was cited as saying there was a risk of estates being set up. Five years on, there hasn’t, as far as we are aware, been a single case of an estate being ‘set up’.

Johnstone talks about instances of interference with legally set traps as an example of ‘nefarious activity’. Yes, it does happen, although not as widely as the game-shooting industry claims (see here) and most, no, all of the examples that we’ve seen show vandalism of the trap (thus rendering it inoperable) as opposed to some random person placing illegally-set traps (e.g. pole traps, as pictured above (RSPB photo)) to infer guilt on the estate gamekeepers.

We should really be congratulating whoever is responsible for SLE’s media strategy (‘deny, deny, deny’) because the longer SLE and the grouse-shooting industry takes to accept responsibility, or continues to blame it on others, the more idiotic, the more complicit, and the more incapable of self-regulation, they look, and then the quicker a licensing regime will be imposed.

Former police wildlife crime officer Alan Stewart wrote a blog recently about the grouse shooting industry’s refusal to accept responsibility for raptor persecution and specifically about SLE’s Moorland Director Tim (Kim) Baynes’ accusations against so-called ‘extremists’ (that’ll be us) for ‘derailing progress’. It’s well worth a read – here.




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