Sheriff Noel McPartlin, presiding over the trial of gamekeeper George Mutch (Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire) yesterday ruled that the RSPB’s video footage is admissible.
His ruling was based on his view that the footage in question was a by-product of a legitimate survey (in to the use of crow cage traps) rather than the camera being placed with the sole intention of filming someone committing a criminal act.
This ruling doesn’t mean that covert video footage will be acceptable evidence in all criminal proceedings; each case will have to be considered based on its specific circumstances. But in this trial at least, the video evidence has been ruled lawful.
That is a big result. More often than not, this sort of evidence has not been accepted in Scotland, although it is routinely accepted in England. Credit is due to the Fiscal, Tom Dysart, and especially to former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse for all the political pressure he piled on to the Crown regarding the use of video evidence in wildlife crime prosecutions.
After two days of legal wrangling and following Sheriff McPartlin’s decision, Mutch’s trial got underway ‘properly’ yesterday, i.e. the evidence (video) was shown in court.
One recording filmed on August 14th 2012 showed a goshawk being caught inside a Larsen trap, which had been set inside a pheasant pen. A live Jay was being used as the decoy bird [illegally – the General Licences do not allow a Jay to be used as a decoy species in a Larsen trap]. Mutch was filmed approaching the trap the next morning at around 6am.
Prosecution expert witness David Anderson, a Conservation Manager for the Forestry Commission, was asked to tell the court what he could see in the footage, which was filmed in misty conditions. He said the man appeared to pick up an object to pin down the bird. “Then I saw the man got the bird, pulled it out and dispatched it with a stick or whatever they had in their hand”.
Another recording showed Mutch walking in to a crow cage trap (also set inside a pheasant pen) and catching a goshawk that had been caught in the trap. The bird was placed (alive) inside a white sack and removed from the cage.
Mutch has denied all the charges against him.
The trial continues at Aberdeen Sheriff Court and hopefully it’ll conclude today.