Stody Estate exonerated after gamekeeper’s conviction for mass raptor poisoning

Regular blog readers will remember the mass poisoning of birds of prey on the Stody Estate, Norfolk in 2013.

In October 2014, Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert was convicted of a series of wildlife crime offences on the estate, including the mass poisoning of birds of prey (10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk) which had been found dead on the estate in April 2013. He was also convicted of storing banned pesticides and other items capable of preparing poisoned baits (a ‘poisoner’s kit’) and a firearms offence (see here and here).

Photo of nine of the buzzards poisoned by gamekeeper Lambert [photo: RSPB]

In our opinion, gamekeeper Lambert got off pretty lightly when he was sentenced in November 2014. Even though the judge acknowledged that Lambert’s crimes had passed the custody threshold, Lambert received a 10-week suspended sentence for poisoning 11 raptors (suspended for one year), a six-week suspended sentence for possession of firearms and dead buzzards (suspended for one year) and was ordered to pay £930 prosecution costs and an £80 victim surcharge. In our opinion (see here), this was absurdly lenient for one of England’s biggest known mass raptor poisoning incidents, and on top of that, Lambert wasn’t even sacked – it was reported that he’d been allowed to take early retirement from the Stody Estate.

However, even though Lambert appeared to have got off lightly, his employers at Stody Estate were hit with a massive financial penalty (through cross-compliance regulations), believed to be the biggest ever civil penalty imposed for raptor persecution crimes.

Today though, the High Court has ruled that Lambert’s actions were “not directly attributable” to Stody Estate or its senior management and the subsidy penalty has been quashed!

In other words, the employer (Stody Estate) cannot be held accountable for the criminal actions of its employee (Allan Lambert). That’s quite astonishing, although it’s difficult to comment in detail without knowing the finer details of Lambert’s employment contract with Stody Estate. [UPDATE 7th March – full written judgement now available at foot of this blog post]

It does seem like yet another example of the need to introduce vicarious liability legislation for specific offences against birds of prey in England, as has been done in Scotland.

Stody Estate photo by RPUK

The following article has been published in the EDP:

A farm company was wrongly penalised after a gamekeeper poisoned wild birds of prey to preserve game birds for shooting, the High Court has ruled.

Allen Lambert poisoned 10 buzzards and a sparrowhawk which he saw as a threat to 2,500 pheasants and partridges laid down for a 10-day “family shoot”.

The gamekeeper on the 4,200-acre Stody Estate in north Norfolk was convicted of an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1981 in October 2014.

And, in January last year, then Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, stripped Stody Estate Ltd of 55pc of its farm subsidy for that year.

Overturning the penalty today, a senior judge noted that there had been “no finding of fault” against the company, based in Melton Constable, or its senior management.

The mere fact of Mr Lambert’s conviction did not prove that poisoning the birds was “directly attributable” to his employer, said Mrs Justice May.

“Some further enquiry directed at the level of fault, if any, on the part of Stody Estate in connection with Mr Lambert’s actions was required,” she added.

“In the absence of any finding of fault there was no proper basis for the imposition of a penalty.”

The Stody Estate, which has 15 employees, has been farmed by the MacNicol family for 75 years and Charles MacNicol is its managing director.

Estate manager, Ross Haddow, has day to day management of the farm and Mr Lambert had been a gamekeeper since 1990, living in a tied cottage.

The Rural Payments Agency, which administers the single farm payment subsidy scheme, at first said the company should lose 75pc of its subsidy.

That was reduced to 20pc by the Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel, but the penalty was upped again, to 55pc, by Ms Leadsom last year.

Stody Estate Ltd and its management were “exonerated” from any involvement in poisoning birds, the court heard.

But Ms Leadsom concluded that “the intentional acts of Mr Lambert, acting within the scope of his employment, were to be treated as those of the farmer, being Stody Estate.”

The issue was of such importance to the farming industry that the National Farmers Union intervened in the case, arguing that the penalty could only lawfully have been imposed if Charles MacNicol, or possibly Mr Haddow, had poisoned the birds.

Mrs Justice May said that that was going too far, but nevertheless ruled that Mr Lambert’s actions could not be “directly attributed” to Stody Estate or its management. The penalty was quashed.


UPDATE 7 March 2018: The written judgement can be read HERE (with thanks to @borobarrister)

32 thoughts on “Stody Estate exonerated after gamekeeper’s conviction for mass raptor poisoning”

    1. Vicarious liability has moved on since this – in some cases fairly far (eg Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Supreme Court judgement in 2016) but May says in the judgement that ‘the doctrine of vicarious liability’ wasn’t relevant in this case (32) in the judgement linked to. May’s decision rests largely on her interpretation of a single dutch case about muck spreading by a subcontractor of a subcontractor rather than intentional killing by a direct employee of a farmer who the employee might expect to benefit directly from his illegal actions.

  1. Gosh..I wonder why this keeper [yet again!] wasn’t sacked after being found guilty, not only of wildlife offences but also firearms offences?…What an understanding employer!…I wonder if Mr Lambert implicated Stody Estate in his defence?..No?..yet another surprise then. All one big happy family in the shooting world.

  2. If it had been a H&S at work issue there would be no doubt over the link between the corporate body, the manager and the employee…… yet another astonishing difference in the way the law is applied to wildlife crime. The government should appeal… even if it is just to avoid paying out the subsidy.

  3. Do we know if ANY estate (or farmer) has been successfully penailised under the relevant, and very clear, RPA sanction clause? If not, what’s the point in such a statutory provision?

    1. It’s been pretty hit and miss. Off the top of our heads there have been two that have been penalised:

      Glenogil Estate (Angus Glens, Scotland) got hit with a penalty of £107,000 although there was apparently going to be an appeal. We don’t know if there was an appeal or the outcome of it:

      Glasserton & Physgill Estates (Scotland), the first landowner to be convicted of vicarious liability for raptor persecution, got hit with a penalty of almost £66,000:

      But then there are two others that we know about that did not get penalised:

      Glanusk Estate (Wales):

      East Arkengarthdale Estate (England):

    2. Hi Alan, yes a farmer who lives a few minutes up the road from me had 5% knocked off his basic farm payment about 3 years ago, after an inspector called and found some sheep ear tags were missing from the sheep, farmer said he was all very nice about it at time of visit then hit with a fine via payment much later in the year when the BFP was paid.

  4. Solely from a layman’s point of view I see little difference, other than in interpretation, between this relationship and that of “joint enterprise” often used against the lower orders. They say that the ladder of the law has no top and no bottom …. another throw away line with little basis in reality. A damned disgrace that insults the intelligence of people.

  5. Bloody ridiculous. Ok the wording of the subsidy qualification should be changed to a requirement that to qualify a person/company etc needs to demonstrate compliance with environmental regulations and the law. Then if they cant prove that they have browbeaten their employees into not killing birds of prey they are guilty. That is they have to be able to produce a shedfull of paperwork, recordings etc of everything that they have done in this area, including staff training etc. Everyone bloody else has to live this way, so why the hell farmers/shooters/landowners are allowed to get away with it is outrageous.

  6. Yet another farce, why not go out and poison and trap as many birds of prey as you want, you will only get a slapped wrist. They should have had 100% of their subsidy removed, this is a complete and utter bad joke.

  7. If Vicarious Liability was law in England this case would never have got to court! The wealthy and powerful landowners would not face prosecution at all. Which is why cases in Scotland rarely, if ever get to court! Insufficient evidence,not in the public interest etc etc

    1. Exactly, we live in a country ( not quite so much to the N) where the political elite are supported by the judiciary, the police, the media, and the general public because they (not surprisingly ) believe the crap they are constantly fed. “Well it must be true if that nice policeman said it on Countryfile” and “the BBC are a trustworthy source of news” and “I read it in the Mail.”
      The rich and the powerful still have this country in their back pockets , rush to the barricades brothers and sisters.

  8. The whole judicial system is compromised over widlife crime: corrupt from top to bottom – and I have had first-hand experience at the police level

  9. What a Farce,no wonder they don’t want Vicarious Liability brought in ! the Judicial System needs a complete overhaul regarding Wildlife Crime ,one Law for some and one for another,what a complete joke .

  10. Every time this happens it simply makes the case for a complete ban on driven Grouse shooting. Nice, clear and simple unlike a licensing system which has to be enforced – by, in England , an already discredited organisation in this area at least. And the points about the comparison with H&S are highly relevant – particularly as illegal poisons used by gamekeepers have the potential to be as dangerous to their users as target ‘vermin’.

    Having said that, recent high profile issues like News International have extended the ‘we really didn’t know’ defence way beyond the bounds of credibility. As a professional manager, one is left thinking only two options – they knew, or at least suspected enough to be culpable, or they were terminally incompetent. Your choice.

  11. Tax payers money being used to fund grubby estates whose employees are convicted of carrying out very serious criminal acts.

    11 birds of prey recovered in 1 day. I wonder how long he has been a gamekeeper and what the true toll is.

    This case sends out all the wrong messages and highlights a system that still protects the privileged few who continue to destroy Britain’s populations of raptors and any other species perceived to effect sporting interests.
    Mountain hare, badgers, pine martens, hedge hogs, all corvids,pole cats not to mention reptiles and insects killed by heather burning.

    Lets see if he continues as a gamekeeper… bet is he does.

  12. And that right there is why crimes against our native BOP’s by the same shower will continue at a pace for the forseeable future

  13. Vicarious liability to such situations is fine….however, l had a situation where l had disciplined an employee three times about treatment of my farm animals. On a 4th occasion l dismissed him for gross misconduct. The following evening he gained access to a slurry pit emergency lagoon control valve (totally obscured in a 1 metre deep chamber) and released the contents that contaminated several water courses to mine and my neighbour’s. The Environment Agency had been consulted on the design to give advice on capturing over spills….nonetheless, the damage was done. Fortunately, a drunken man speaks a sober mind …the culprit was mouthing off about me in that l had my cuppence about pollution of water courses. Little did he know that he, he alone was with several others privy to the pollution…..he was interviewed by the police and charged with a host of charges. I then was subjected endless meetings with insurers, lawyers etc. Fortunately my insurers dealt with everything, leaving me with a hefty increased insurance premium at renewal.

    I was fortunate. My concern is that such a type of incident could happen to a landowner by foul means …

      1. Because we were polluters; we had discharged slurry into a watercourse: lf the perpetrator had not been caught we might have taken responsibility as negligence by the actions of others.

  14. The big question is why was Allen Lambert:

    1) Putting a lot of time and effort into illegally killing raptors, putting his job and his livelihood at risk, if his employers disapproved of this?

    2) Why was Allen Lambert keeping recently killed raptors in plastic bags in a place associated with him? After all if he’d have just buried them in the ground further away there’d have been no evidence to convict him. The only obvious explanation is that he was taking this risk of keeping the evidence of his crime to prove to someone else that he was successfully killing raptors.

    It’s amazing how little interest the authorities and the courts show in finding out why these keepers were spending so much time and effort, and taking such risks to themselves, illegally killing raptors, when the only people to benefit from this would be those who ran the shoot, and the shooters themselves.

    1. Yes. Presumably the people receiving the tax payers money would also have been profiting from this illegal activity in the form of increased bags.
      I don’t know all the fine details but there seems to be an assumption of entitlement by the judge. The money wasn’t a fine it was money we were giving to these bastards. Giving them less, what a harsh punishment, those poor rich people hard done by again.

  15. I wouldn’t dare comment – I would be prosecuted immediately for breaking the law – and we all know we can’t do that – unless of course we are …………….. !

  16. The point of the case, in my view, is not that Lambert’s actions were not directly attributable to Stody Estate, but that the RPA (on behalf of the Secretary of State) should have conducted some enquiry to establish whether there was any fault on the part of Stody Estate instead of relying on vicarious liability (which was not a proper basis for the imposition of a penalty).

    It is well worth reading the actualy decision (or at least paras 28-38).

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