Cumbrian man ‘not in any way connected’ to red kite deaths

Following the blog post on 6 December 2011 (see here), Cumbrian man Allan Armistead appeared at Preston Crown Court on 6 January 2012. Here is what was reported by the ‘In-Cumbria’ newsletter:

AN investigation into the suspected poisoning and shooting of red kites led to the discovery of breaches of regulations dealing with pesticides and firearms at a farm.

But it was accepted at Preston Crown Court yesterday there was no evidence 74-year-old Allan Armistead was in any way connected with the deaths of the birds.

The pensioner, who lives at Hulleter Farm in Oxen Park, Ulverston, was fined £7,000 and ordered to carry out 140 hours’ unpaid work.

He admitted seven offences in relation to pesticides, plus three other firearm-related offences.

The court heard a search warrant was executed at the farm last July.

Chemicals were found, most of which were unlawful to possess, due to regulations which had come in more than 10 years ago. Some of the pesticides were 60 years old.

Two rusting tins had a chemical capable of producing cyanide gas on contact with air or water. When one of them was open in safe lab conditions, some of that gas had already been produced.

Mr Brett Gerrity, prosecuting, said the finding of those tins had resulted in wildlife officers having to wear full face masks.

Other pesticides were also found. Among them was a bag containing bottles of crystallised hydrochloride strychnine. There was also a bottle of strychnine hydrochloride – a highly toxic poison used for controlling moles.

It was also found Armistead had his late father’s Home Guard rifle without authorisation, had more ammunition than he was allowed and had not disclosed he had at least three other guns. Mr Christopher Evans, defending, said the pensioner was genuinely remorseful. The chemicals had previously been legally held for many years before new regulations came in.

He said Armistead had lived at the farm since he was born. He had worked there all his life, following in his father’s footsteps, and works seven days a week.

His father’s old rifle had been kept for sentimental value.

Judge Graham Knowles QC cancelled the firearms certificate and shotgun licence that Armistead had held.

He told him: “You dealt with the guns and the ammunition and the pesticides as though the law didn’t apply to you, or didn’t matter.”

Armistead was also told to pay a total of £2,300 costs, plus a £15 surcharge.

Joke sentence for second-time convicted gamekeeper

David Alexander Whitefield, the former gamekeeper at Culter Allers Estate in South Lanarkshire, was today sentenced following his December 2011 conviction for illegally poisoning four buzzards (see here for conviction report).

Before we discuss his latest sentence, let’s remind ourselves of Whitefield’s criminal record: This keeper, who was also a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, was convicted in October 2008 for offences relating to the unlawful capture and subsequent welfare of a buzzard. His sentence for that conviction was a £300 fine. He kept his job as the sole gamekeeper and he was not expelled from the SGA. Just six months later, in April 2009, RSPB investigators were alerted to the signs of an illegal poisoning spree on this estate. Obviously, these subsequent poisoning activities, for which Whitefield has now been convicted, demonstrate that the £300 fine had zero effect as a deterrent (no great surprise really).

So then you might expect today’s sentence to reflect not only the seriousness of the crime of poisoning wildlife (and potentially any human and/or domestic animals that happened to wander through the well-used public walking trails on this estate), but also to acknowledge that Whitefield, already previously convicted for wildlife crime there, had shown a complete disregard for wildlife legislation.

You might reasonably expect that the sheriff in this case, Nicola Stewart, might utilise her full sentencing powers and go for the most serious sentence available for this type of crime, which includes a custodial sentence and/or a financial penalty for each poisoned bird. That would see Whitefield put away for a while and would send out a very clear message that this type of crime will no longer be tolerated in this country, just as the Scottish Government has claimed over and over again in recent years.

So why then, was Whitefield handed down a 100 hour community service order as his ‘punishment’?

According to an RSPB press release, Sheriff Stewart is reported to have said the punishment was a direct alternative to a custodial sentence and that poisoning is a serious offence. Why was he given a direct alternative to a custodial sentence and where, in his 100 hour community service order, is there any indication that illegal poisoning is considered a serious offence?

This is a joke sentence, to add to all the other joke sentences that have been handed out to the few criminals that are actually prosecuted for these crimes. As we keep seeing, over and over again, these punishments are not providing the required deterrent so surely it’s now time to introduce mandatory sentences for these offences, and that includes custodial sentences. These are already available to the judiciary – so far, for whatever reason, not one custodial sentence has been given to a convicted raptor poisoner. We need to be asking why that is, and we need to keep asking.

Well done to the SSPCA for some serious doggedness with this case – it’s been a long time in the works and looked at one point to be in danger of failing on a legal technicality. Perseverance paid off, and despite the pathetic sentence, those involved with the groundwork deserve much credit.

BBC news article here

RSPB Scotland press release on Birdguides Blog here

Sat-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’

Regular blog followers will remember the golden eagle that was found poisoned on Glenbuchat Estate last March (see here). What wasn’t reported at the time was that this young eagle was one of a pair of twins from 2010 being satellite-tracked by the RSPB (unfortunately, the movement maps of these two birds were not made public). The poisoned eagle found on Glenbuchat Estate never reached her first birthday. Now it seems her twin has ‘disappeared’.

Her last signal was received in the evening of November 22nd 2011 in the Monadhliaths (well-known as a  raptor black-spot). Her next signal was scheduled for noon the next day. It never arrived and no further signals have been received. Up until that time, the signals had all been received without any hint of a technical problem. The location of her last signal has been checked but there wasn’t any sign of her.

Suspicious, or yet another technical malfunction? Draw your own conclusions.

Thank you to the contributor who sent this information.