Update on the curious incident of the eagle in the night-time

Following on from yesterday’s blog entry, The curious incident of the eagle in the night-time (see here), we have an update…

First of all, a big thank vote of thanks to all of you who tweeted and shared the story on Facebook to help raise awareness about this situation. Special thanks to five Twitter users in particular: @TripleSter; @RareBirdAlertUK; @benjaminbittern; @Cekaelta; @ChrisGPackham.

Secondly, another big vote of thanks to everyone who made an effort and sent an email to Tayside Police’s Chief Constable to ask whether the death of this golden eagle was the subject of a criminal investigation. Your efforts have had an impact – a Tayside Police spokesman has responded by writing a comment on the blog. We’re reproducing it here so it doesn’t get buried:

We are concerned regarding this matter and, along with our partners in Grampian Police and the RSPB Investigations Unit, as well as our own Wildlife and Environment Officer, are continuing to undertake enquiries. Please be assured that Tayside Police will continue to investigate all circumstances surrounding this incident with a view to identifying those responsible and holding them to account for what is a terrible deed. Anyone who has information that can assist us should call 0300 111 2222, or speak to any officer“.

Before we discuss their comment, we’d like to acknowledge Tayside Police for engaging in the discussion. Although they have a duty to respond to emails sent to them by members of the public, they aren’t obliged to post comments on blogs or a similar forum and they deserve some credit for doing so in this instance.

Now, let’s get down to what they said:

They are concerned. That’s good.

They are continuing to make enquiries. That’s very good, but can we clarify that “this matter” / “incident” / “terrible deed” is in fact a CRIME? There seems to be a reluctance to use this term. This is an important distinction to make as it will affect the official wildlife crime stats that the police now have to provide to the Scottish Government each year (this requirement was brought in with the WANE Act) and also the ‘stats’ that the persecution-deniers trot out each year to ‘prove’ that illegal raptor persecution is ‘in decline’.

They are conducting their enquiries in partnership with Grampian Police and the RSPB Investigations Unit. That’s also very good.

They will “continue to investigate all circumstances surrounding this incident with a view to identifying those responsible and holding them to account for what is a terrible deed”. That sounds very good but is it anything more than just a media sound bite designed to placate an increasingly frustrated general public? It’s been six months, nearly seven months, since that eagle was found dead in early May 2012. What chances of finding any evidence now or in the future, so long after the event?

In the interests of transparency, we’d like to ask some further questions about the investigation to date. Obviously we don’t wish to jeopardise an on-going criminal investigation and so Tayside Police may not wish to answer these questions, although it is common practice for police forces to release some information during criminal inquiries so let’s see if they’re able to help this time. The questions that we’re asking should not have any negative effect on their continuing enquiries because it’s probably fair to say this investigation is now dead in the water; nobody is going to be brought to justice for the death of this eagle. We also know that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association is conducting its own ‘inquiry’ and that information about this investigation may have been passed to them by Tayside Police. If so, we hope the police will not treat us any differently.

We’d be interested to learn whether, during the early stages of the investigation, attempts were made to recover evidence from a wider search area of the land where the eagle was motionless for 15 hours before it was moved north to the lay-by where it was left to die? Also, were attempts made to recover evidence (e.g. eagle feathers or blood) from any vehicles or buildings that may have been used in this crime?

We’d also be interested to learn why Tayside Police haven’t publicised this incident, either at the time the dead eagle was discovered, or in the following months (e.g. with an appeal for information)? Tayside Police regularly post news items, appeals for information and investigation updates in the news section of their website; we wonder why this case was treated differently?

We also understand that there might have been some sort of approach by a defence agent wishing to access the dead eagle and/or the post-mortem results and we suspect this might have been an attempt to discredit the findings of the official post-mortem. i.e. to challenge the conclusions drawn by experts at the Scottish Agricultural College lab that the eagle’s severe leg injuries could have been caused by a spring-type trap. Did Tayside Police provide the findings of the official post-mortem to any defence agent? 

And finally, we go back to the Environment Minister’s statement about this incident. In whose interest was it to suggest that this was not a criminal offence? Who advised the Minister that the eagle’s injuries could have been the result of anything other than a criminal offence? It probably wasn’t the RSPB Investigations Unit given they put out a press release stating that they believed the eagle had been caught in an illegally-set trap (see press release here). That only leaves the police, unless of course the Minister’s office is taking advice from a defence agent, and that would certainly seem absurd. If it was Tayside Police, and we’re not saying it was, doing so would appear to undermine a criminal investigation before it even got off the ground (no pun intended).

Surely a government minister would not release a statement unless he was sure the advice he had being given was accurate? So, did Tayside Police advise the Minister’s office that the eagle’s injuries could have been caused by something other than a spring-type trap? If they did, it’d be interesting to know what the Minister’s office was told could have caused the eagle’s injuries other than a spring-type trap.

We’re calling on our blog readers to help find answers to these questions by asking Tayside Police, en-masse, to provide clarification on the above points. Just writing about the issues on a blog can help raise awareness but it’s unlikely to produce tangible results – the police aren’t obliged to respond (although, as mentioned above, Tayside Police, to their credit, did so yesterday and for that we applaud them). However, they are obliged to respond to individual emails from the general public.

This is an opportunity to shine a light on the investigation of raptor persecution crimes in the Tayside region. Regular blog readers will be well aware that the death of this golden eagle is not an isolated incident;  this region has seen more than its fair share of illegal raptor persecution in recent years, including the discovery of poisoned golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, buzzards, red kites, sparrowhawks, tawny owls, crows, as well as a series of poisoned baits. Very few of these crimes have resulted in prosecutions.

Here’s a summary of the questions to be asked:

  • Is the death of this golden eagle being treated as a CRIME?
  • Were attempts made to recover evidence from a wide search area?
  • Were attempts made to recover evidence from vehicles and buildings?
  • Why hasn’t Tayside Police publicised the death of this eagle?
  • Did Tayside Police provide details of the post-mortem to any defence agent?
  • Did Tayside Police advise the Minister’s office that the eagle’s injuries could have been caused by anything other than a spring-type trap? If so, what did they say could have been the cause of the injuries?

Please send questions to Tayside Police Chief Constable Justine Curran: justine.curran@tayside.pnn.police.uk

5 thoughts on “Update on the curious incident of the eagle in the night-time”

  1. By the way I have had no reply to my email which I did not expect but now after your comment “However, they are obliged to respond to individual emails from the general public.” I will be badgering them and sending another with your list of questions about both incidents.

    [Ed: thanks Bob. They have to reply within 20 working days].

  2. Sad to say it but looks like here we go again. Yet another very serious wildlife crime incident which has left so many questions unanswered.

    The sound bites by Tayside police ….you can fool all of the people all of the time. What exactly was the level of investigation that this incident was given here? Partnership working should not be a term that is used for the purposes of deflecting criticism it actual means engaging with other specialist organisations for the purposes of increasing the chances of getting to the bottom of crime.

    How long do you think you can hide wildlife crimes by pretending that they are ‘on going investigations’? Granted there will be occasions when it will not be appropriate to release information however it damages the trust between the police and the public when this is not the case.

    As much as I welcome the new vicarious liability legislation I fear it will be treated much in the same way as the loss of single farm payment is and is used as an excuse by the police not to conduct a proper investigation.

    If the police have informed the minister and his office that there may be other reasons for the birds injuries then they should admit to this and lets hear what they are. The worry is this type of incorrect information could potentially undermine not only this case both also future cases.

    It is only when the public have trust in the police hat wildlife crime will be investigated that matters will improve and whilst we wait for that some estates will continue unabated to kill anything believed to have a departmental effect on game bird populations.

    1. Thank you for bringing these matters to my attention and by way of assurance, on behalf of Tayside Police, I am now in a position to provide an update in regard to many questions asked through the Blog. In order to deal with this effectively in the future, I would ask that any further correspondence be directed to this email address in order that they can be dealt with appropriately – mail@tayside.pnn.police.uk

      You will appreciate that it has taken some time to consider the issues raised. The following comments take into account the on-going investigation into the death of the Golden Eagle in May 2012, as we continue to attempt to establish the exact cause of the eagle’s death.

      This reported incident was recorded as a crime in Tayside area and has been investigated as such. Along with our partners in Grampian Police and the RSPB Investigations Unit, I have carried out a full and comprehensive enquiry into this incident. The enquiry remains ongoing and we have unfortunately yet to identify those responsible.

      In every investigation, Police and other partner agencies consider the use of the media. In this case utilising the media was indeed considered by the enquiry team and after discussion with partners, it was decided not to publish the incident. Be assured that the media are considered in every investigation by Police and other agencies but I am content that the correct decision was made in this case.

      As per Karen Hunter’s (Scottish Government) letter of the 24th October 2012 “It is extremely frustrating (for all involved in the investigation of wildlife crime) that it is so difficult to detect, and in some cases to prosecute and convict those responsible for wildlife crimes. However while it easy to make suppositions about circumstances of an apparent offence as reported in the media, wildlife crime must be subject to the same standard of proof as any other crime. Police and prosecutors also apply the same stringent procedure for dealing with wildlife crime as for any other sort of crime.”

      In Scotland, in all cases, sufficient and admissible evidence is required to report a case to the Procurator Fiscal.

      A charge may be proved by purely circumstantial evidence, by accounts from two or more credible witnesses or a combination of the two types of evidence but, in order to be sufficient, the material facts and circumstances must point only to one conclusion, and that is, the guilt of the accused. It is not necessary to have corroboration of every fact and circumstance in a chain of circumstantial evidence but the more important circumstances should be corroborated.

      Evidence must also be legally admissible which means it has to have been obtained by legal means. Only competent evidence will be admitted by the courts. The court alone decides what evidence in a particular set of circumstances is admissible.

      To clarify Police procedures, there can often be sufficient evidence to suggest a crime has been committed to allow for further investigation, but this does not automatically infer there is enough evidence to report the matter to the Procurator Fiscal or indeed secure a conviction. This is the current situation.

      Please be advised that in relation to some of the more specific questions, asked regarding the on-going investigation, we can not disclose information due to the risk of compromising the investigation. However we can confirm that Tayside Police did not allow any access to the Golden Eagle carcass to any defence agent.

      Be assured that Tayside Police are eager to bring the perpetrators to justice and in conjunction with the other agencies referred, Tayside Police will continue to investigate all circumstances surrounding this incident with a view to identifying those responsible. Police and other agencies will apply appropriate and proportionate resources to this type of crime on every occasion and diligent enquiry will be carried out.

      Tayside Police will also continue to support and develop all preventative measures available to us and our partners to minimise the threat of any further such incidents occurring in the future.

      I trust my comments will be of use to all those who have contacted Tayside Police regarding this incident.

      In regard to other general questions, I can advise that this information can be accessed via your own website, the SASA website and RSPB website.

      For any further comments or information that can assist us in this investigation please contact: mail@ tayside.pnn.police.uk , call 0300 111 2222 or speak to any Police Officer.

  3. After emailing a number of members of both the national government and Scottish government I have at last received one reply! which I copy below from the Environment and Forestry Directorate, Natural Resources Division

    Thank you for your letter of 23 November 2012 to Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the
    Environment, Mr Richard Lochhead. I have been asked to respond.
    I note that your letter has also been directed to the Chief Constable of Tayside Police and
    accordingly it is not appropriate for me to attempt to answer your questions only the Chief
    Constable can rightly answer.
    I can advise however, that Tayside Police have not provided the Minister for Environment
    and Climate Change with any information on what could have caused the injuries to the
    golden eagle’s legs, beyond the conclusion in the post mortem that the bird had suffered
    trauma that could be consistent with an injury caused by a spring type trap.
    Yours faithfully,
    Karen Hunter
    Wildlife Crime Policy Officer

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