Crown Office drops third prosecution in two weeks

Two weeks ago, we blogged about how the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS – the public prosecutors in Scotland) had dropped a long-running vicarious liability prosecution against landowner Andrew Duncan, who was alleged to have been vicariously liable for the crimes of his gamekeeper, who had killed a buzzard on the Newlands Estate in 2014. When pressed for a reason behind the decision to drop the vicarious liability case, the Crown Office said it was “not in the public interest to continue” but did not provide any further detail of how, or why, that decision had been reached (see here).

Ten days later, we learned that the COPFS had dropped another long-running prosecution, this time against gamekeeper Stanley Gordon who was alleged to have shot a hen harrier on the Cabrach Estate in 2012. No explanation was given for this decision.

And now today, we have learned that the COPFS have dropped another long-running prosecution, this time against Angus Glens gamekeeper Craig Graham who was alleged to have set and re-set an illegal pole trap on the Brewlands Estate in 2015. Again, no explanation has been given for this decision.

That’s three high profile prosecutions for alleged raptor persecution crimes, dropped within a two week period, with no explanation why.

One long-running case being dropped would raise an eyebrow; a second long-running case dropped a few days later would cause concern, but three long-running cases, all dropped within a fortnight, all on the eve of an actual trial? That is highly suspicious, even for the most unassuming observer.

Was it incompetence on the part of the COPFS? That is surely a possibility, especially as each of these cases has been running for months, at huge cost to the public purse. Why did it take so long to decide to abandon each case? Was it an issue with video evidence? We’ve been there before, although we’ve also seen successful prosecutions based on video evidence. If it was an issue with video admissibility (and we don’t yet know if it was, so this is just speculation), why did it take so long to reach that decision and anyway, wouldn’t admissibility be an issue for the court to decide, not the prosecutor? Was there another reason for discontinuing these cases? We don’t know, because the Crown Office is saying nothing.

Whatever it was, the discontinuing of these three cases will cause huge damage to public confidence in the Scottish criminal justice system. What do you have to do to get someone to stand trial for alleged raptor persecution in Scotland? We know how difficult it is to identify a named suspect, and we know that the evidential threshold is set extraordinarily high for this sort of crime, so when you do manage to secure enough evidence to charge and then prosecute somebody, it is massively frustrating to (a) see the cases dropped and (b) not be told why.

What is clear amongst all this murkiness is that the current system is not fit for purpose. This series of discontinued prosecutions just adds more grist to the mill for the introduction of a licensing system, and for basing that system on the civil burden of proof.

Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to the release of the video footage……

24 thoughts on “Crown Office drops third prosecution in two weeks”

  1. Did they just wait until after the ECLR committee heard the raptor crime evidence?

    It is an appalling situation… will purdah prevent the minister from commenting…is that why it happened now?

    But now that its happened… Surely these real documented incidents will be sufficient to force SNH to revoke their general licences?

  2. Friends in high places???

    Extreme corruption springs to my mind.

    Sickening, when gamekeepers and their bosses are intent on wiping out hen harriers and much more.

    1. hit the nail on the head! friends in high places indeed.we know this but can’t change things without people power, not much of this about these days . petition petition petition is a way forward.

  3. It would be interesting to know how long cases generally take to navigate the legal system and how many are dropped after such a long and expensive process. If cases, as must be suspected, against shooting estates and/or their employees are well outside of the norm, then surely there ought to be some examination of why this is so.

  4. Justice has to be seen to be done for us to have faith in the justice system – this is serious and if there isn’t a public statement about these cases then it will be obvious that the Crown Office does not take wildlife crime seriously. Who is going to stick their neck out and report criminals, risking local intimidation, bullying and reprisal – all of which I have seen in the scottish countryside – if this is what they get? Case dropped and a wall of silence?..Come on COPFS you can do better than this.

    1. You would have thought this warranted a full explanation. Without transparency there can be no public confidence.

  5. I’m not sure how much sway Westminster has over Scots law, so I’ll hold off haranguing my own MP for now. But every Scottish reader should be annoying the hell out of their MSP until there’s a formal enquiry. It is obviously NOT a wildlife crime priority based on current evidence.
    As previously stated after the first collapse, justice has to be seen to be done. If there is a genuine reason these did not proceed, it is most definitely in the public interest to share those reasons. Failure to do so suggests something to hide. If it’s a legal matter, then MSPs must make amendments to tighten any possible ‘loopholes’. That would be in the interest of ‘honest’ estates, Police Scotland, parliament, and the whole judiciary. I’m afraid if there is no faith in the system, some hot-headed ‘eco-zealot’ may be left with no other hope than vigilante action – then again, this may be exactly what xxxxx and xxxxx want?

  6. Maybe, just maybe, a letter writing campaign could demonstrate a level of public interest in favour of continuing such cases.

  7. I feel a batch of letters to MSP’s coming along. We need to be getting our local MSP’ writing to the Justice Secretary asking for him to ask the COPFS why these cases are being dropped when Raptor Persecution is one of the 5 wildlife crime priorities!

  8. The display of lack of confidence in the Scottish legal system (COPFS) hangs heavy in the comments made on the three instances of vicarious liability failing to be applied. If one looks throughout the whole application of the law in Scotland, one finds dissatisfaction with the sentencing of those committing serious crimes. To impress the public, full life sentences are awarded for heinous murders, drink driving deaths and sexual crimes, but then disillusionment has set in when one finds those sentenced not serving their full terms, and often committing further horrific acts. Conditions in our prisons are making matters worse. We require more carefully designed training programmes for those having served prison sentences, as recidivism can be high. So, how can we expect up to five year prison sentences for those being cruel to animals, and for those cynically breaking our wildlife conservation laws? This year, the Commons has hosted two debates on lengthening prison sentences for those making animals suffer, and all party representatives from the component countries of the UK, have all supported such a toughening up of punishment. Also, the mail bags of MPs can, on certain occasions, contain a majority of letters from the public showing concern over the lack of proportionate sentencing for cruelty to animals. My experience of fifty years campaigning for both conservation and animal welfare issues, has shown a strong support for longer terms in prison for breaches of the law on those two interconnected matters. Most of the that support has come from people in the poorer and high unemployment areas of Central Belt Scotland.

    Also in that concern, is the land ownership of Scotland and how large areas of our wilder countryside is dominated by shooting estates, seemingly cosseted by the SNH and protected from prosecution by our judicial system, when it comes to the blatant killing of our iconic Birds of Prey, and the unjustifiable annual massacre of Mountain Hares. What has not been recognised by our anachronistic Establishment, is that a more informed and less servile public has come into existence, which is supportive of protecting wildlife, with its large membership 0f conservation trusts, and its ready and generous response to appeals to save species from extinction. I welcome the movement of more such people into the rural environment to counter balance the hegemony of shooting estates and big landowners over the rural population. To assist that process, estates should be broken up and well-trained groups and individuals acquire holdings, as part of a comprehensive plan to restore the Scottish countryside, after years of destructive practices. The removal of bullying and coercive practices would be encouraged by raising the incomes of rural dwellers, plus a restoration of essential services to give communities a more inclusive relative lifestyle. Remove or restrict the power of the land magnates, and Scotland could become a model for other states to bring democracy and humane management to our beleaguered countryside. Our MSPs mostly answer constituents of the matters being discussed, with a trite rote-learned email or letter, as they are brainwashed into believing that game from our estates are a big factor in Scotland’s food export industries. Such exports have reached just over one billion pounds. Could the presence of healthily leaded produce of game shooting estates, be the real reason why prosecution of wildlife criminals be a serious problem? It seems we still have a parcel of rogues in our nation.

    To understand the frustration being felt, we really have to have an holistic outlook, with the many factors involved in preventing success in our mission to save wildlife, identified and actions taken to move forward with a plan to bring humane sense and concerted actions to bring down the detestable regime that has its grip on the countryside of Scotland. Every country on Earth is being faced with the horror of seeing its natural world being torn apart with hunting, poaching, developments, forest destruction, marine pollution and indigenous peoples’ rights disregarded, like the Bushmen, the Congo Pygmies, the Lakota Sioux, the Amazonian tribes. Like huge and menacing demons, the multinationals scour the planet for gold, oil, ores, gas, timber, and in the process poison the seas and freshwater of human settlements,. Our banks have been guilty of funding such destructive projects for more egregious palm oil and other mono-crops, replacing huge areas of biodiversity. Scotland is a microscopic part of that, and no political party at present exists, that will make the necessary changes.

    1. The evil cauldron of killing predators and game is a lucrative business for the wealthy. I don’t know about Scottish estates but in England the moorlands receive an enlarged package of subsidies from our pockets. What for, when they are so well healed? I would agree with our moorland livestock farmers being supported but the sordid acts of moorland killers should be excluded from my pocket. Their destruction of ecosystems that continues without environmental control defies common sense

      The rich with their cleverly manipulated, freedom from prosecution, should not be paid at our expense to play god on the moors for their FUN.

      I hope my words pass the censorship this time? But the antics of the corrupt make me mad!


      [Ed: it’s not censorship, Doug, it’s editorial control to protect you, and us, from a libel suit]

  9. Is there some way the press can be drawn into this? A public demand for answers, especially at election time, might get some response.

  10. I share all your posts with my 5000 fb friends but cannot do so with this one for some reason. Will keep trying though!



  11. OK, gone through now with comment ‘Money talks or the Law is an ass…or both’!!!!!



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