North Yorkshire Police admit they should have charged pole-trapping gamekeeper

On 1 June 2016 we blogged about the Mossdale Estate gamekeeper who had been caught on film setting illegal pole traps on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).

Mossdale pole trap May 2016

Also on 1 June 2016, we blogged about North Yorkshire Police’s decision to issue this criminal with a caution rather than refer him to the Crown Prosecution Service to begin a formal prosecution. We argued that, according to the official Police ‘cautions’ guidelines, the decision to caution in this case was apparently flawed. The offences, to which the gamekeeper had already admitted guilt, backed up by excellent video evidence obtained by the RSPB’s Investigations Team, were of such gravity and included all five aggravating factors (and no mitigating factors) as listed in the Police guidelines, that this was a clear case for proceeding to charges and a prosecution. Following a bombardment of complaints from blog readers (thank you all), Amanda Oliver, Acting Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police, promised a review of the decision not to charge this criminal gamekeeper (see here).

Today, Amanda Oliver has published the findings of that review:

You wrote to us recently to complain about our decision to caution a man, after he admitted an offence contrary to section 5(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

North Yorkshire Police has now completed a review of this investigation. This involved looking again at the evidence and the decision, using the Ministry of Justice Guidelines on Adult Cautions, the Adult Gravity Factor Matrix, and the latest Director of Public Prosecutions Guidance on Charging. Specialist advice was also sought from the Crown Prosecution Service.

Our review found that we had not used the correct cautioning guidelines when dealing with this case. Police officers have a level of discretion in deciding how to deal with a case, based on the specific circumstances of the incident. However, the review concluded that if the correct guidelines had been used, it is likely that the man would have been charged, rather than cautioned.

It is important to remember that a police caution is not a “let off”. A person who has been cautioned has a criminal record, and there can be very serious consequences as a result.  Depending on the circumstances, they may lose their job and income, and there may also be implications for the person’s future employment. A decision was also made to revoke this man’s firearms licence as a result of his involvement in this offence.

As a result of the review, we asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether further action should be taken on this case, and provided them with other details of our activity related to the man involved. After consideration, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that, taking all matters into account, including that a decision had already been made, no further action should be taken. 

I would like to reassure you that the mistake we made on the use of guidelines was isolated to this particular case. Nonetheless, we have taken the matter very seriously, and we have ensured we have done everything we can to avoid mistakes happening in the future. We have amended our policy on how wildlife crimes are dealt with by investigators and decision-makers, and advice from specially-trained officers is now sought in every case. We are also using our position as the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on rural and wildlife crime, to share what we have learned with other police services across the UK.

Thank you for raising this matter with us. On behalf of North Yorkshire Police I would like to apologise for the distress that this matter has caused you, and assure you that we will do our very best to protect our local wildlife, and deliver the police national wildlife action plan here in North Yorkshire and more widely.

Yours sincerely

Amanda Oliver

Acting Assistant Chief Constable


We very much appreciate Amanda Oliver’s decision to conduct this review and publicise the findings. This level of accountability, honesty and transparency is, in our experience, extremely rare but it is vital if the public is to have any confidence in the way the Police handle wildlife crimes. We applaud North Yorkshire Police for not trying to cover up their mistakes.

On to the actual review itself, Amanda says the usage of incorrect charging guidelines was isolated to this particular case. We’re not so sure about that. In 2015, we blogged about the discovery of five illegally set pole traps at a gamebird-breeding facility in North Yorkshire. The police charged the owner of that facility and he was found guilty of permitting the use of one pole trap, although this conviction was later quashed. But the Police failed to charge two employees with setting those five illegal traps and instead they were both given a caution (see here). Did North Yorkshire Police use the incorrect guidelines when they decided to caution those two employees? We’ll never know.

Amanda suggests that in the case of the Mossdale Estate gamekeeper, a police caution is “not a let off”. Sorry, but that’s nonsense, and we share Mark Avery’s views (here) on why it absolutely is a let off. It’s particularly frustrating in this case because, as you all know, raptor persecution on grouse moors is prolific and yet there are relatively few convictions. Why? Because it takes an extraordinary set of circumstances to have first-rate evidence AND an admission of guilt from the gamekeeper. This particular case was handed to the Police on a plate, thanks to the superb efforts of the RSPB’s Investigations Team. It should have been an easy ‘win’ that ended in a successful prosecution. That opportunity was missed in this case, and that’s unfortunate. However, we do applaud the Police’s decision to revoke this gamekeeper’s firearms certificate and we hope other Police forces take note of that decision.

It’s also unfortunate that the CPS has taken the decision not to take any further action against this criminal gamekeeper but without knowing the full details of the case it’s difficult to assess the validity of that decision.

We’re pleased and encouraged to hear that North Yorkshire Police has now amended its policy on how it tackles wildlife crimes. Given this region’s well-deserved reputation for being a raptor persecution hell hole, it probably won’t be long before we get to see just how well this new policy is working. The next case won’t be far away.

25 thoughts on “North Yorkshire Police admit they should have charged pole-trapping gamekeeper”

  1. Looks as though an FOI request to the CPS is the next step. The gravity of this case is such that a full explanation of all significant factors must be provided.

  2. Admitting mistakes is to be applauded, but what guidelines / criteria were applied by CPS not to take further action?

  3. Well done to Amanda Oliver, but I’d like to know what happened to the Officers who made this mistake. If that had been in 90% of other jobs in the world there would have been consequences. ” Oh sorry I didn’t quite read his passport correctly and mis-read the guidelines so let him in.” (possibly bad taste given recent goings on) “Oh sorry I didn’t read the guidelines properly and awarded him his driving licence. even though he was speeding…” “Oh sorry I didn’t read the guidelines and …put your own scenario here…”. Still better than everything was ok nothing to see here, carry on. Cant help wonder though.

  4. I’d like to know the basis for the CPS decision given the compelling evidence and admission of guilt – what more do they need for heavens sake? This is weak. If the CPS is unwilling to pursue a case with such clear-cut evidence, is there really any hope at all of getting on top of wildlife crime?

    1. the wildlife crime committed, throughout the country, on a weekly basis done to our foxes is deeply troubling to me. the CPS rejects clear evidence of crimes committed by Fox hunters all the time. For those who Monitor the activities , who risk their lives whilst protecting our wildlife, it’s demoralising.

  5. NYP are applauded but then pass the case to the CPS and that’s where we need to now focus the questions, CPS are a Public Body and one reasonably assumes are accountable and would be subject to FoI requests?

  6. Have just been reading the NY Police letter again. I note that in relation to them referring the matter to CPS for guidance, they mention that they “provided them with other details of our activity related to the man involved’. So what is that all about then?

  7. Police use a let off those they do not wish to charge it is open to corruption.they are not judge and jury they should protect and serve without fear or favour.To much of this in our society the CPS are also guilty of this

  8. Great to hear that the gamekeepers firearms licence was revoked, however this is fairly common and the gamekeepers usually get their licences back quickly, after the inevitable appeal. Will North Yorkshire Police be keeping us informed in this regard?

    1. Having a firearms licence revoked is no deterrent whatsoever. These people routinely break the law, sometimes on a daily basis, so I’m sure having a licence removed won’t make a bit of difference.

      1. A firearms licence is the be all and end all for many gamekeepers. In the macho world of the traditional gamey losing your certificate is like being castrated. It is potentially the biggest deterrent available to some of the more knuckle-dragging individuals involved in wildlife abuses; PROVIDED it lasts for a considerable period of time. Without a licence a gamekeeper is effectively just an estate labourer, and on some smaller shoots is incapable of doing the job so is likely to use it. With no certificate a keeper might be kept on by their employer but they damned sure won’t be taken on as a keeper by anyone else, no matter how sympathetic the prospective employer is to their plight.

        However this very much depends on the licence being revoked and no new one being issued for a significant period of time, i.e. several years for minor crimes, and perhaps ten years for more serious convictions rising to a life ban for the very worst multiple/repeat offenders.

        A fine is sometimes a waste of time for many estate employees as in past instances this has been paid by the employer and the gamey carries on as normal and they both have a chuckle. Being deprived of their guns directly affects them and the estate can’t take the hit for them.

        1. To an extent, I can understand the removal of a firearms licence could prove to be an obstacle if any given gamekeeper changes employer, however if a gamekeeper is kept on by an estate after losing his/her licence, then it won’t be a problem.

          As mentioned, the criminal element within the shooting industry routinely break the law, and kill and maim protected by species by using a variety of illegal methods, so I’m quite sure the mere fact that a gamekeeper has lost his/her licence, won’t stop them from using guns during the course of their work.

          Indeed, I would categorise the removal of a gamekeeper’s firearms licence in the same vein as SNH’s General Licence restrictions – utterly pointless and unenforceable. Prison sentences, lengthy ones at that, are the only deterrents for such criminals

    2. He should have been taken to court and fined as an example, there are far too many keepers setting pole traps and getting away with it.

  9. Quite often I find this site frustrating. Especially when it takes any potential incident and does its best to make it a fact that suits its agenda. However in this case and the Glenusk case, I think its superb how you have pursued these actual crimes and forced acknowledgment and brought to the public eye.
    Nothing works better that bad publicity when an actual crime has been committed.
    Im not so sure the same applies, when things are based on supposition.

    Well done


    1. Sorry to disagree with my namesake, but I think RPUK generally strikes a pretty good balance between fact and supposition. Given the nature of the crimes, especially the locations where the crimes take place, convictions will always represent the tip of a much larger iceberg. I don’t think we should just ignore the existence of the submerged part!
      RPUK generally draws a clear distinction between suspicion (always based on evidence) and outright proof.

  10. The crown prosecution, in carrying out a review of whether the decision was correct, were influenced by the fact that a decision had already been made! How pointless is that!

  11. It seems that whoever made the decision was not very well versed in the procedure of administering simple cautions. Having said that, I don’t think that a caution is a let off. Well, not *entirely*.

    Convictions which are spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 will still need to be disclosed under certain circumstances (e.g. an application for a firearms licence, certain jobs, positions, etc).

    I’m not that familiar with the law of England and Wales, but restrictions on public reference to spent convictions (including cautions, even though a caution is not a strictly speaking a conviction) don’t apply to criminal proceedings and if it’s in the interests of justice it might be necessary to refer to them.

    Accepting a caution means that the person admitted the offence, so should that person become a witness or a defendant in a criminal case a caution, as evidence of bad character, can be submitted, and it is within the trial judge’s discretion to admit it.

    However it’s important to note what Lord Justice Thomas said in the case of Regina v Olu, Wilson and Brooks: ‘a court would be shutting its eyes to reality if it assumed that, where a person was not legally represented, the consequences of admitting an offence and accepting a caution were fully explained to a person in a manner that he understood the serious adverse consequences that would follow and what he was giving up by not exercising his right to legal advice—namely that what he was admitting would give him a criminal record, that the caution would be maintained on his Police National Computer (PNC) record for very many years and that it would be used against his interests in certain circumstances.’ So, it is likely that the North Yorshire ‘trapper’ admitted the offence (without access legal advice) because he was told that this would result in a caution. If the police had decided to report the case to CPS the person would probably have spoken to a solicitor, who would likely have advised him to provide a ‘no comment’ interview.

    One of the main issues in the case of Olu exactly the use of cautions as evidence of bad character, it’s quite an interesting read, see para 55 onwards:

    I would assume that prosecuting a person for an offence after that person accepted a caution for same offence was not an option available to CPS (mainly because of the nature of the admission of guilt).

  12. A further response from North Yorkshire Police;

    ‘Morning Mr Clarke

    I’m responding on behalf of ACC Oliver, who is on leave.

    The standard practice for CPS decisions would be via the Victim’s Right to Review Scheme, details are here
    This particular case may well fall out of this remit, as it was an initial out of court disposal, but this would be a suitable place to address any concerns one has.

    The officers involved in the decision making process received management advice.

    Kind regards


    A/Insp Jon Grainge
    Collar Number 1859
    Rural Taskforce
    North Yorkshire Police’

    I will be writing to the Crown Prosecution Service.

  13. Vicarious liability.

    The keeper is merely the servant and the landowner the master. I’m not defending criminals but there are others who should be accountable as well?

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