Jailing raptor-killing gamekeepers ‘not the answer’, says Robertson

Alastair Robertson Scotsman 24 Jan 2015The fall-out from the shock custodial sentence for raptor-killing gamekeeper George Mutch continues….

The following appeared in yesterday’s Scotsman weekend magazine (24th January 2015). It’s the regular country sports column written by Alastair Robertson, the pro-game shooting journalist who also contributes to Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Telegraph, The Sun, Country Life & The Field.

“I only met George Mutch a few times. We were both in the beating line on a local shoot early in the season. Later, when I was shooting myself as a guest of a friend on Donside, I spotted him with his dogs picking up behind the guns. “Changed days from beating”, we laughed. Like most keepers he was helping out on the next door shoot for a few quid and a dram. At the time Mutch’s name didn’t mean anything until I spotted his face on Raptor Persecution Scotland, a website dedicated to the iniquities of gamekeepers and the game shooting world and a site which I highly recommend to anyone who likes shooting.

Which is why Mutch’s photo had appeared. He was captured on a hidden RSPB “research” camera killing goshawks caught in a vermin trap on Kildrummy where he ran the pheasant shoot.

His jailing for four months is being hailed as a breakthrough by the anti-shooting lobby which for years has complained that the government, police and courts have underrated the seriousness of wildlife crime. Perhaps, in their unofficial minds, police put the discomfort of birds rather further down their list of priorities than domestic violence, paedophilia, rape and drink-driving. But now the worm has turned. Mutch is the first keeper to be jailed for killing a raptor. The sad thing is that there is little understanding really on either side of the raptor argument.

The comments on Raptor Persecution following Mutch’s jailing were largely of the “Yippee, serves him right” sort. On the other side there are clipped official statements deploring wildlife crime, while among keepers and shooters a sullen silent resentment pervades that the RSPB, generally loathed for its interfering ways, has somehow “won”.

The only sensible comment I have seen, on the Raptor Persecution site as it happens, is that instead of jailing Mutch at great expense he should have been sent, possibly as a community service order, to work on an RSPB reserve. This may have been a joke and I missed it. But at least the reserve wouldn’t have any vermin problems.

The Mutch affair will inevitably increase demand to ban all legitimate live traps which keepers use to keep down vermin. It might, however, be better to turn the whole bird of prey argument on its head. Instead of trying to catch keepers at it, pay them a bounty for all raptors caught, logged and/or released. Poachers turned gamekeepers as it were. If, as the anti-shooting/raptor lobby insist, raptor persecution is widespread, then what is the point of conducting a war of low level attrition in the countryside which no-one is winning? Banging up Mutch pour encourager les autres isn’t the answer”.


So, no real surprises. Gamekeepers and shooters apparently ‘loathe’ the RSPB for ‘interfering’ (= catching raptor-killing gamekeepers and reporting them to the police). Oh, and killing raptors doesn’t really merit a custodial sentence because it doesn’t rank as a priority crime, even though the Government and Police Scotland have both stated that tackling wildlife crime IS a priority, and even though the penalty available for EACH offence could be a £5,000 fine and/or a six month custodial sentence. Some would say Mutch got off lightly with just a four-month jail sentence.

Instead of trying to catch gamekeepers at it, Robertson’s theory is that gamekeepers should be paid a bounty for each raptor they manage not to kill. A bit like giving a bank robber a bounty for each bank he manages to walk past without robbing it. ‘Ah, well done lad, you’ve managed to go a whole day without committing a crime – here, have some tax-payer’s money in recognition of your self-control’.

Mutch Edinglassie sept 2014Talking of Mutch, we were interested to receive this photo taken on a grouse moor in September 2014.  This was on Edinglassie Estate in Aberdeenshire. Edinglassie is an award-winning estate, receiving the GWCT’s Golden Plover Award in 2013 for their progressive & sustainable moorland management, and becoming WES-accredited (SLE’s Wildlife Estates Scotland thing). Is that George Mutch, clearing the butts after a drive? Who would employ Mutch to help out on a game shoot? (There’s no more helping out for a few quid and a dram – new rules mean that, unless in exceptional circumstances, HMRC views beaters etc as ’employees’ for tax purposes). Interesting. Although to be fair, in September he was still denying his guilt and hadn’t yet been convicted (that came in Dec). Can’t imagine an esteemed estate like Edinglassie would employ him now he’s been convicted of raptor persecution…..

28 thoughts on “Jailing raptor-killing gamekeepers ‘not the answer’, says Robertson”

  1. Did the man really, actually have a point? Or was he just wanting to get that ridiculous picture of himself up there? There really is no grey area with this, It’s illegal to kill this particular bird, he was caught doing just that, he went to prison – just as he should. Wildlife, living its life, feeding it’s young and doing what it must to survive is not vermin – humans that kill everything in their wake, for fun, they are vermin and worse than any other virus on this unfortunate earth.

  2. These criminals have laughed in the face of the law for far far too long and they carry out their filthy and unforgivable raptor slaughtering business knowing full well that it’s unlikely they will get caught due to the remoteness of where these acts take place. Even if they consider there is a chance of being caught then they know that the estate will pay for the best defence, but even if they are found guilty then they will often have the penalty paid for them and usually they will just stay put or moved onto another estate, particularly if they are managed by certain estate managers. NOW, maybe a bit of jail time if they get caught will make them consider a little more before they set out their illegal traps, poisons and point that gun at that raptor…..just may.

    In some of these raptor persecution cases these criminals are knowingly risking the lives of people when they put poisons out on the hills and they do not give a sh**. They are actually prepared to kill humans! Now, even if you don’t give a damn about raptors and other wildlife, those living with and who know of people committing these crimes should really consider having a serious word with them or turning them in. The jailing of such trash who kill our raptors and in some cases even threaten the lives of humans must expect that if they continue in their ways then they may well end up behind bars, but if they stop then they wont. It is really as simple as that.

  3. Project Raptor makes an excellent point: people who lay poisoned bait have no control over which animal (or human!) picks it up. The amazing thing is that at least a quarter of Alastair Robertson’s ‘Weekend Life’ columns over the year are about his gundogs. Wonder how he’d feel if the sainted Crumpet, or its puppy Waffle (I’ve always thought Waffle is an excellent choice of name in this case!) died after chowing down on some poisoned bait? I’ve lost a cat to random & reckless laying of poison – not a happy end for any animal.

  4. As with everything Robertson writes he comes across here as a wee boy from an Enid Blyton book, full of jolly japes and silly ideas, and not really responsible for what he says or does. ‘Among ‘keepers and shooters a sullen silent resentment pervades’ – that really means ‘if you put me in the bad corner I’ll jolly well go in a huff’. ‘Yippee’.

  5. This website is one of the most relentlessly thorough and well researched resources for anyone interested in the truth about raptor persecution in this country. Anyone who comes here who isn’t already brainwashed by the ‘country sports’ fraternity should be able to see that for themselves. With any luck he’s just upped your readership!

    1. I think his intention was to up the readership by bringing this site to the attention of those who might be inclined to flood it with pro-shooting propaganda. That could, of course, just be my natural cynicism seeing demons where none exist!

  6. Long custodial sentences are the answer for these people who break the law and kill.raptors.with no regard for the majority.Trouble is they are not long enough and those that encourage them get away scot.free

  7. Interesting that Alistair Robertson once again equates “anti-wildlife crime” with “anti-shooting”. While it’s not something I’m keen to take up, I have no problems with driven grouse shooting and recognise that managing moors for grouse can, if done right, be beneficial for other species too. But shooting has to be within the law and shooters have to accept losses to raptors as a price worth paying for the continuation of their sport. Killing goshawks IS a serious crime and people who commit serious crimes need jail time. Yes it’s true that rape and paedophilia are more serious but people convicted of them can expect a lot more than four months.

    1. What a very reasonable and moderate response, surely we’re not supposed to get this sort of thing on RPS. Mr Robertson might have to agree to another sensible comment on the site!

      On a more serious note even such a reasonable response, in the line of the provocation we see, would not be accepted by the shooting community, so blinkered are they. Surely it is this intransigence and the entrenched views that will be their downfall.

    2. Dave Pressland, you seem like a reasonable person reading what you have to say but please answer us one question, if you support some forms of driven grouse shooting then are you ok with the tons of toxic lead which is shot out of cartridges every year, building up on shooting estates across the UK, polluting our environment and all for the sake of a blood ‘sport’. People who we have spoken to and enjoy shooting live targets always seem to go quiet when we ask this question.

      1. Interesting point you make about lead and I’m being devil’s advocate here. Have you got figures and proper evidence that this is an issue. I know it is generally accepted as an issue for wildfowl hence the ban on lead at shorelines but what is the evidence for your position. Can’t imagine it would have much impact on the moors around Leadhills and compared to the potential we used to be exposed to with lead water pipes a scattering of lead on a moor seems small beer. However, I look forward to your reply.

        If you have it fair enough but occasionally I see statements on here that are a bit silly or inaccurate (in comments rather than the main posts) and that drags the argument into the realm of the comments that “we” criticised from the shooting industry. You can bet that when the shooting industry want to make criticism of the conservation side they will point to the few inaccuracies rather than the bulk of good evidence. Any inaccuracy brings down the credibility of your argument even when the rest is good enough on it’s own.

        It’s a sort of parallel to the courtroom rule “don’t ask questions if you don”t know the answer” as they can come back to bite you.

        1. There is more than enough evidence on the toxicity of lead to convince authorities all over the world….so much in fact that correct question would be “Do you have enough evidence to allow it to go ahead.”? After all what sort of an idiot would think it a good idea to scatter poisons all over the countryside…..oh….

          Leadhills has a lot of lead locked up in its sulphide ore Gallena. Have a chat with SEPA about the smelting sites where the lead was released from the ore.

          1. Thanks for the reply. I was hoping for a link to a few articles but I have Googled and found some articles. Typical minefield of opinions but a good and understandable article from Minnesota if anyone fancies a read. http://tinyurl.com/mq8zxxs

            :) I’m better educated today than I was yesterday.

  8. I don´t feel a ´yippee serves him right.´ I see it as the first step of a long series of further executions of law. I agree with project raptor: Why should they be allowed to commit crimes? I hope in the future law is going to be executed a lot more often and that the future generation is able to see raptors in the wild and not only in zoo or museum. Equal important as catching thieves, roadcriminals and saving housewives from violent husbands…

  9. “Banging them up” is the answer – everything else has been tried..decades of attempts to build bridges, form partnerships, write down protocols have all ended the same way – the raptor killing continues…I would suggest that the reason this man went to jail is that he knew very well indeed that he was committing a criminal offence and did so after all the ” red lights” from his own “profession”, never mind the warnings from sheriffs, MSPs and of course conservation groups. There should be no sense of shock here – it was just a matter of time. Bring on the next one – until, like the egg thieves, keepers realise its just not worth it.To suggest there could have been a non custodial way of dealing with this flies in the face of common sense.

  10. Clearly certain elements in the shooting lobby believe they are above the law. We live in strange and dangerous times

    1. True, Jimmy.

      And even if the majority of the shooting lobby complies with the law, the question remains:

      where is the pleasure in killing our fellow creatures? There must be pleasure, or it would not be termed ‘sport’.

      Here’s a radical idea – let’s live and let live.

    2. Jimmy, it’s not so much they see themselves above the law, as they think the law is wrong, and should be ignored. They see the law as something ebing priomulgated by a bunch of townies who don’t understand the ‘way’s of the country. It’s a bit like an unrepentant speeding driver, who continually goes above the speed limit because ‘he’ can drive safely at that speed.

  11. Its funny… that seeing as the “professionals” share work places etc…. you would think that they would all agree on the date of the end of the pheasant shooting season. Hilarious example of their flexible approach to “rules” on their facebook page.

  12. It makes you wonder that if the shooting estate owners and their gamekeepers are so willing to routinely break the wildlife protection laws, the firearm laws and the poisonous substances act so blatantly just what else are they capable of. Maybe the law should be paying more attention to what they get up to !!!

  13. Further to the point I made about lead and evidence here is an example of how to totally trash your credibility.

    Robertson says “The only sensible comment I have seen, on the Raptor Persecution site as it happens, is that instead of jailing Mutch at great expense he should……….”

    He either needs a visit to Specsavers, hasn’t read very much or has to be a total idiot.

  14. I thought he’d trashed his credibility allowing that photo of himself to be used, many people still rely on first impressions.
    first time a Gamekeeper goes to prison and as expected the victim cards and excuses come flooding out, Alaistair Balmain shamefully once again used his editorial notes in his comic magazine shooting times to have a dig at the RSPB accusing them of gloating over a mans downfall
    Wildlife laws were first introduced by nobility to prevent poaching, it was only later they were amended to protect vulnerable wildlife, the sentences originally were much tougher and included hanging or deportation, when tracing my family history we actually found that one of my ancestors was deported for poaching, I think Mutch has got off lightly
    Cant help thinking how ironic it is, land owners whinging about laws they themselves help create being used against them, killing wildlife that does not belong to them, protected wildlife, makes them no better than common poachers

  15. One of our blog readers wrote a letter in response to Robertson’s article. The Scotsman chose not to publish it, so we are:

    Dear Sir
    I can only assume that Alastair Robertson was very short of ideas for today’s ‘Fishing & Shooting’ column, or else he is striving to appear more out of touch with the real world than ever.

    He labels the Raptor Persecution Scotland website as ‘dedicated to the iniquities of gamekeepers’, and claims that the RSPB is ‘generally loathed’ – both remarkably esoteric and bizarre views, I’d say. Both the RSPB and Raptor Persecution Scotland represent the views of the large majority of people who wish to see our protected raptors actually being protected. The sad truth is that those who have thus far been caught and brought to book for illegal poisoning and trapping of birds of prey tend to have been predominantly the employees of shooting estates. Many of the illegal killings of raptors where a culprit has not been positively identified tend, by their very geography, to be associated with shooting estates. I’m not sure why Mr Robertson chooses to castigate organisations like the RSPB for stating the bleedin’ obvious.

    However, what is most distasteful is his defence of that poor, misunderstood gamekeeper George Mutch, caught at his nasty work by the ‘hidden cameras’ of the dastardly RSPB. Mr Robertson may be unaware that footage of this gamekeeper despatching a goshawk in a way which could not remotely be described as humane, was broadcast on TV news. No one who watched that footage could doubt that this man deserves the punishment that has been meted out. The fact that Alastair Robertson seems set on insisting that he’s a jolly good chap says more about your columnist than it does about the appropriateness of the jail sentence handed down to Mutch.

    Yours faithfully

  16. Alistair Robertson said, inter alia:-
    “Perhaps, in their unofficial minds, police put the discomfort of birds rather further down their list of priorities than domestic violence, paedophilia, rape and drink-driving.”

    If that is what the police do and provided their reason is one of assigning priorities then fine, but it simply strengthens the case to have the SSPCA overtake wildlife crime investigation and thereby free up police time for other activities.
    If the “discomfort of birds” (rather a quaint description) is what is seen to be at stake then it would explain the lack of police effort. However, using illegal poisons that are lethal to humans seems to me to be a matter that should rank highly and yet it is very rare for the police to warn the public to be alert in an area where a poisoned bird or bait has been found.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: