George Mutch trial: sheriff rules video evidence admissible

scales of justiceSheriff 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.

17 thoughts on “George Mutch trial: sheriff rules video evidence admissible”

  1. Goods news, although a first instance court decision is not binding on any other case. Presumably directed surveillance would be permissable if RIPSA was complied with (Another reason for giving SSPCA statutory powers)

  2. The ruling is good for this case. However it still leaves the situation where criminals are purposely caught on video committing a crime cannot have that evidence used against them. That is perverse, to say the least.

  3. Good news in this instance. It does seem bizarre to me that a criminal can get away with his crime, just because he was filmed committing the act. The filmed evidence should be the most important in all cases, unless it is proved that the film has been tampered with.

    It is often the filmed evidence that convicts perpetrators of burglaries in jewel shops etc. but unlike some, they are not untouchable!

  4. Hang on. There’s a bigger picture here. It’s to do with the balance to be struck between the freedom of the individual and the powers of the state. At the moment the general position is that evidence obtained by covert means is inadmissable. That applies across the board, not just with wildlife crime. I’d be wary of abandoning that position just to secure a few convictions which we might all otherwise want. Be careful what you wish for.

    1. Dave, that’s a fairly recent development (post Human Rights Act and RIPSA). I was using covert video and photographic evidence in prosecutions back in the late 80s/early 90s with no problem (and little restrictions). Nothing better than a bit of film to show someone carryuing out an illegal activity. One issue comes when the video is obtained by a ‘private’ organistation and not one with investigatory powers (and restrictions)

  5. Great news. I hope [xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx] don’t go for an appeal. If video shows criminal activity then that should be enough to make it valid. [xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx]

    1. Excellent news, now we just a few brave prosecutors to apply the wedge strategy to this as they have in virtually every sphere that has involved prosecution of the poor. Think it will happen?

    2. Oh, blast my last comment should have been a reply to the article, not this comment. Sorry, hit the wrong button.

  6. Yes good news. However it will be a waste of time & money if the sentence doesn’t serve as a deterrent to other criminals who believe it’s their right to kill Scotland’s raptors.

  7. Oh come on Dave Angel and ICT, Chris Roberts and Dougie are right – this is a FANTASTIC outcome I for one thought would never happen. At last we have people brave enough to face up to the criminals, and as I have said before, while one swallow doesn’t make a summer, it sure as hell give you hope that one is on the way, and this verdict certainly gives me that hope. And if Mutch gets a custodial sentence in January it will undoubtedly make the criminals (and hopefully his employer) somewhat more circumspect about committing their crimes. Of course at the same time they will also get more adept at hiding their crimes, so we cannot relax for a single second. However, with the doughty RPS leading the charge, we can win this war. In the meantime VERY WELL DONE Sheriff McPartlin, Fiscal Tom Dysart and yes – Paul Wheelhouse. You have done us proud – and so have you RPS. One last thing – Mutch pleading ‘not guilty’ to all charges when he was filmed committing the crimes, points to one outstanding fact- our opponents aren’t exactly the brightest stars in the firmament!!!

  8. Very good news, good coverage on both BBC and ITV. Many of the general public, hopefully, will have had their eyes open to what goes on by our custodians of the countryside. Hopefully the judge will give the custodial sentence that is being considered.

  9. I expect there will be an appeal based on the video evidence being admitted.

    In the meantime the BBC report states

    ‘A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), which has now banned Mutch, said they would not condone anyone taking the law into their own hands.

    But he said the SGA believed it was wrong for individuals “from one particular profession” to be under surveillance in their place of work without their knowledge.

    The spokesman added: “It is not right for Scottish government to deny people whose livelihoods come under pressure, due to the activity of certain species or animals, recourse to a legal solution to solve that conflict.”

    I think what that last bit means is that Mutch should have been allowed to kill the birds legally, to save him from having to break the law. It’s a novel approach, I have to say.

  10. I look forward to a large expansion of the research programme into the effectiveness of crow traps… the results should be illuminating.

    I love the SGA response… which can be paraphrased as… “you only break the law if you get caught and its not fair that we all expect them to use legal means to protect their investment”…. Do they understand what they are writing???

    Congratulations to the team.

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