In April 2016 we blogged about a Scottish gamekeeper who was appealing his conviction for killing a buzzard (here).
In August 2015, gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick, now 26, was found guilty of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire, in April 2014. Two witnesses had observed him striking the buzzard with rocks and then repeatedly stamping on it (see here). In September 2015 he was sentenced: £1,500 fine for killing the buzzard and £500 for possession of the dead buzzard (see here).
Mr Dick had maintained his innocence throughout the trial and had claimed he was elsewhere when the offence took place (see here).
Mr Dick’s appeal was heard in May (here) and we’ve been waiting for the written judgement from that hearing. Yesterday, that written judgement was published and Mr Dick’s appeal was thrown out.
The judgement itself is well worth a read (see here) as it explains not only the evidence used to convict Mr Dick, but also the grounds for his appeal, which basically centred on what time Mr Dick and his line manager (Head Gamekeeper) had left a BASC training course in Dunkeld. Mr Dick has always argued he couldn’t have been the person observed killing the buzzard because he was still travelling back to Newlands Estate from Dunkeld at the time the observation was made. The Sheriff in the original trial had preferred the testimony of the two witnesses (tenants on Newlands Estate who knew gamekeeper Mr Dick) to the testimony of Mr Dick and his Head Gamekeeper.
You might think that 21st Century technology could easily have resolved this issue. For example, did the vehicle in which Mr Dick and his Head Gamekeeeper were travelling not pass any Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras enroute from Dunkeld to Newlands Estate? Surely that would have provided conclusive evidence about the timing of their journey? Apparently not.
Mr Dick’s appeal was heard by three senior judges: Lord Carloway (Lord Justice General), Lord Menzies, and Lord Bracadale. In the written judgement, each of these three judges state their individual opinion about the case and explain the reasoning behind their decisions. Two of the judges (Carloway and Bracadale) considered that the appeal should be refused. The other judge, Menzies, considered that there were sufficient grounds for appeal. [Interesting to note, according to Wikipedia, Lord Menzies’ interests include shooting]. The appeal was rejected 2:1 against.
This is a rare success and the SSPCA, Police Scotland, and Crown Office deserve credit for their efforts. Special credit to the two witnesses who risked a lot to bring this criminal to justice.
As Mr Dick’s criminal conviction has now been upheld, presumably this will now allow the prosecution to proceed against Andrew Duncan, the Newlands Estate landowner, for alleged vicarious liability of Mr Dick’s crimes. The case against Mr Duncan has been repeatedly delayed (see here) while Mr Dick’s appeal was underway.
Mr Dick’s failed appeal also leads us back to several questions we asked at the time of his conviction in August 2015. These were:
- Is/was criminal gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association? The SGA refused to comment on Mr Dick’s membership status at the time, saying they ‘wanted to wait until the legal process had concluded’. Well, now Mr Dick’s criminal conviction for wildlife offences has been upheld, how about answering the question? Emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Will Scottish Land & Estates now expel the Newlands Estate from the ranks of SLE membership? SLE said at the time that Newlands Estate’s membership of SLE had been ‘voluntarily suspended’ pending on-going legal proceedings. Well, now the gamekeeper’s criminal conviction for wildlife offences has been upheld, how about answering the question? Emails to: email@example.com
- Will the Newlands Estate’s accredited membership of Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) now be revoked? The conditions of membership of this scheme include: “the requirements to maintain best practice standards of animal welfare and comply with all legal requirements and relevant Scottish codes of practice”. At the time of Mr Dick’s conviction, a spokesperson for WES said the Newlands Estate’s membership and accreditation of WES had been ‘voluntary suspended’ pending the outcome of legal proceedings. Well, now the gamekeeper’s criminal conviction for wildlife offences has been upheld, how about answering the question? Emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ll also be watching closely to see whether the Newlands Estate will now be subject to a General Licence Restriction from SNH. If you recall, this restriction may be imposed by SNH where evidence of raptor crime is apparent and it has been available as a sanction for offences committed since 1 January 2014. Mr Dick killed the buzzard on Newlands Estate in April 2014. Although, even if the GL restriction is put in place, the estate can easily side-step it by applying for an ‘individual’ licence instead (e.g. see here).
Had there been a gamebird licensing scheme in place, the Newlands Estate could now have been facing a temporary ban on pheasant shooting for a number of months/years. At the moment, no such licensing scheme exists, but a petition has recently been launched by the Scottish Raptor Study Group, asking the Scottish Government to introduce such a licensing scheme. You can sign the petition HERE