This is an historic day in the battle against the raptor killers.
Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch, 48, of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire, has been found guilty on all four charges, including the illegal killing of a trapped goshawk, which he clubbed to death, and the taking of two other birds, a goshawk and a buzzard.
No-one will be surprised to learn that yet another gamekeeper has been convicted of illegally killing raptors; Mutch is the 28th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crime in the last three years alone (see here). The big surprise in this case has been the Sheriff’s ruling that the covert video footage, filmed by RSPB Scotland, was admissible evidence. This alone was a significant ‘win’ for those of us who have been exasperated, for years, that this type of evidence has been consistently rejected by the Crown Office, thus allowing The Untouchables to be, well, untouchable. Especially when covert video surveillance has been consistently used in England to secure convictions in similar cases.
So what prompted the change of heart? Undoubtedly, the efforts of former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, who said in July 2013 that he would be urging the Crown Office to consider the use of video footage in cases against those committing wildlife crime.
According to our journalist contacts, COPFS prosecutor Tom Dysart’s performance in court was dynamite, pressing for the admissibility of the video footage and then later shredding the evidence of defence witness Hugo Straker from the GWCT. He also then shredded the evidence of Mutch, resulting in the Sheriff saying that Mutch’s evidence was ‘not credible’ and that his explanation for killing the goshawk (because it was injured) was “a convenient lie”. We never thought we’d say this but Tom Dysart apparently played a blinder. Long may it continue.
The video nasty in this case, showing Mutch trapping and then clubbing the goshawk to death, can be viewed here. WARNING – CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES.
Sheriff McPartlin will pass sentence in January and has already said he is considering a custodial sentence. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, the SGA has put out a fascinating press statement. It turns out that Mutch was an SGA member and apparently “his membership of the SGA has been in suspension for some time, until the outcome of the case was known. Now that it is, he will no longer be a member of the SGA“.
That’s interesting. Mutch committed his crimes in 2012, but according to the SGA’s 2013 silent auction booklet, the SGA accepted a fundraising donation from Kildrummy Estate, with George Mutch listed as the contact:
SGA Silent Auction Booklet 2013 (see Lot #17)
So not only was the SGA still accepting donations from this estate the year after the crimes were committed, but it’s also apparent that Mutch was still employed by Kildrummy Estate after he’d committed those crimes. Fascinating.
The SGA’s statement continues:
“On the separate, theoretical, issue of the use of covert video evidence, it is clear to us that it should not be acceptable for individuals from one particular profession to be under surveillance in their place of work, without their knowledge, and to have their right to liberty and privacy from such encroachment, removed.
If this is to be the direction of travel, 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.
Currently, there are no legal or scientific means by which people can protect their investments or jobs in situations exacerbated by conflicts with species. Scottish Government has never granted anyone from the game industry a licence to protect investments, which they have the power to do, although it does grant licences routinely to other industries. This, in our view, is a barrier to justice and does nothing to prevent wildlife crime.
In a society supposedly enlightened when it comes to tackling this issue, we believe this is untenable and we will be seeking talks with Scottish Government so that this anomaly is finally closed, removing once and for all the rationale for people to commit wildlife crime.”
So, the SGA doesn’t agree with the use of covert video footage to convict those within the gamekeeping industry of wildlife crime. Why ever not? Surely, they’d be thrilled to root out those individuals who are causing so much damage to the industry’s reputation? By their reaction, you’d be forgiven for thinking that that’s not the case at all. And as Mutch was an SGA member when he committed his crimes, what does that tell us about the SGA’s ability to provide adequate training for its members? They even admit that Mutch is the 5th SGA member in three years to have been convicted!
And then they go into the usual whine about how wildlife crime would stop if only the Government would issue licences to allow the killing of protected species, (although they don’t actually mention the word ‘killing’ – instead they say “licence to protect investments”). The bottom line is, if the leisure industry of killing millions of gamebirds is reliant on the killing of protected species then that industry has had its day.
This case has taken over two years to conclude. We had thought that because the crimes were committed in 2012, before the vicarious legislation was enacted (1st Jan 2013), that there wouldn’t be a vicarious liability prosecution because we didn’t think it could be applied retrospectively. However, one of our legal friends has since advised us that there still may be a vicarious liability prosecution as long as it’s lodged within the three-year time frame from the date the offence was committed (August 2012). So potentially then, if the Crown deems it appropriate and they get it in before August 2015, we could have another vicarious liability prosecution on the cards.
For now though, let’s just enjoy the successful conviction of another raptor-killing gamekeeper, and acknowledge the work of the people who got it to this stage. Huge congratulations to the RSPB Scotland Investigations Team, the SSPCA, Police Scotland, COPFS, Sheriff McPartlin and former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse. Real partnership working at its best.
RSPB press release and video here
BBC news here
STV news here (this one is amusing!)
Reporting Scotland here [6.25 – 8.40] (this film only available for 24 hrs)