Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson

In July this year, Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson, then 60, pleaded guilty to nine of 12 charges of wildlife crime at Henlaw Wood on Longformacus Estate in the Borders (see here).

[Convicted wildlife criminal Alan Wilson, a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Photo by ITV Border]

Wilson’s crimes included the shooting and killing of two goshawks at Henlaw Wood between March 2016 and May 2017, three buzzards, three badgers and an otter. He also pleaded guilty to charges of setting 23 illegal snares and possession of two bottles of the highly toxic (and banned pesticide) Carbofuran (see here).

[SSPCA photos]

Following Wilson’s guilty plea, the Sheriff adjourned sentencing for a few weeks to allow reports to be submitted.

Soon after his conviction, Scottish Land & Estates issued a statement of condemnation and claimed the Longformacus Estate was being managed for low ground pheasant shooting but in its desperation to avoid any bad publicity of grouse moor management, completely failed to mention that part of the estate was also managed as a grouse moor. Here’s a photograph of Henlaw Wood (now felled) and its proximity to the grouse moor:

[Original photo by Richard Webb; additional text by RPUK]

Alan Wilson, now 61, was sentenced at Jedburgh Sheriff Court this afternoon. Astonishingly (or not!), despite his litany of violent crimes against protected raptors and mammals which easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, Wilson has dodged jail, has dodged a fine, and instead has been issued with a 10-month curfew and an instruction to carry out 225 hours of unpaid work as part of a Community Payback Scheme. His firearms and other equipment was confiscated (it’s not clear for how long).

This monumentally inadequate sentence is in no way a reflection of the severity or extent of Wilson’s crimes, nor does it offer a suitable deterrent for other would-be offenders. According to this article in the Guardian by Sev Carrell, Sheriff Peter Paterson acknowledged that Wilson’s offending warranted a custodial sentence but said that as the Wildlife & Countryside Act only allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish Ministers had recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months, he felt he had no choice but to impose a different sentence.

This doesn’t make sense to us. Sure, the W&CA does, currently, impose a limit of six months but that’s six months per offence, so in Wilson’s case, where he had pleaded guilty to multiple offences, this would have amounted to much more than one six-month sentence and so in our opinion, he should have received a custodial sentence. We don’t know if this sentence will be appealed by the Crown Office – it must first be satisfied that the sentence was unduly lenient (e.g. see here). We’ll have to wait and see.

What is absolutely crystal clear is that the Scottish Government needs to get on and implement the penalty increases for wildlife crimes that it agreed to do way back in 2016.

This is Wilson’s second conviction in relation to offences at Longformacus Estate: in February 2018 he was sentenced to a £400 fine and disqualified from keeping birds of prey for ten years after he was convicted of animal welfare offences in relation to an Eagle Owl he had kept in appalling conditions (see here).

We don’t know whether Wilson’s employer (which may be a landowner or a sporting agent) will face a charge of alleged vicarious liability. We know that two individuals were originally charged with alleged offences at Longformacus Estate (e.g. see here) but we don’t yet have any more details. We will be following up on this and will report here if there is news. [Please note: if you are commenting on this aspect of the crimes at Longformacus Estate, remember there is a potential defence to any allegation of vicarious liability – Wilson’s employer is not automatically guilty just because he was Wilson’s employer].

Interestingly, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has, after months of refusing to comment, now finally admitted that Wilson was indeed an SGA member when he committed these wildlife crimes. Here is the SGA statement posted today:

We’ll be discussing Wilson’s SGA membership in a later post.

It is not clear to us whether the Longformacus Estate is a member of Scottish Land & Estates. So far SLE hasn’t issued a statement about today’s sentencing. Instead, it’s website is leading with an article with the unfortunate headline, ‘Making it Happen’.

More on this soon.

It only remains to acknowledge the huge efforts of all those involved in detecting, investigating and prosecuting this case. This successful conviction was the result of genuine partnership working between the League Against Cruel Sports, Scottish SPCA, RSPB Scotland, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, along with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, SASA, and veterinary pathologists from Scottish Agricultural College. Well done and thanks to all those involved in exposing this filthy criminal activity on yet another grouse moor.

Wildlife crime is endemic on many grouse moors. We see it over and over again and we also see the offenders escape justice time and time again. If you’d like to help bring it to an end, please consider signing this new petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting – PLEASE SIGN HERE

UPDATE 30 August 2019: No vicarious liability prosecution for Longformacus Estate (here).

43 thoughts on “Monumentally inadequate sentence for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Alan Wilson”

  1. Shocking. Absolutely sickening.
    What level of carnage would you need to inflict before you got a custodial sentence?!

    1. Did you read the blog ? It indicates why the (totally justified) overall change in Scottish sentencing policy unfortunately blocked a custodial sentence in this case and what the government is doing to remove that blockage on any future custodial sentences for wildlife crime. It also seems that the decision not to impose sentences for each individual offence in Wilson’s case was the Sheriff’s alone and may be subject to appeal.

      1. I would disagree that the change in sentencing policy is justified, but this is not the forum for that.

      2. A comment on the subsequent blog indicates that the <12-month sentence policy applies to crimes after July 2019. I don't know about this, I'd like to hear more from any who do.

        If there's a crowdfund to support an appeal, I'd be happy to join in.

    2. Depends on whether the old boy on the bench knows another old boy, who knows a jolly good boy in the country, and whether their chap will put a word in for his chap.

  2. What on earth would Charlie say about that !!! Great talk at Birdfair Ruth Chris and Mark , inspirational people all of you , petition signed and posted on our FB group hope that helps in a small way

  3. I fear a trap is in the offing. They, Establishment sources, have been floating harsher sentences for wildlife criminals for a couple of weeks now. However the problem is not sentencing the criminals who commit their crimes in isolated areas … IT’S CATCHING THEM. Harsher penalties would do nothing to solve that.
    What they, those who make money from shooting, really fear is licensing, not the odd conviction and possible jail sentence of an employee. The standard of proof could be lowered to a “balance of probabilities” rather than “beyond reasonable doubt” with the penalty being the withdrawal of a license to shoot game of any kind for a predetermined period.
    Hit those behind the crimes, the ones who rarely get their own hands dirty. That would have far more chance of stopping these atrocities.

    1. George, you say they would fear licensing. In this you would be supported by the RSPB, but please explain how this would work.
      If you introduce licensing, you have to have the manpower to enforce it and the money to do so. But crucially, you have to have the will to enforce it. The will of the politicians and the courts.
      They plainly don’t have this now so what will licensing change? In fact, as many of us suspect, they have a vested interest in not doing so.
      Yes, certainly in this case, where the perpetrator has been caught, then it could be of benefit, but, as we know, most are not caught. How would licensing change this? How would licensing help to apprehend more of the criminals involved?

      1. At the end of the day, Paul, I favour a complete ban on driven grouse shooting, but realise this might not be possible with one giant leap.
        Today’s hi-tech surveillance techniques might go some way to providing additional evidence which, in total, would hopefully be enough to meet the lower level of proof I have suggested. Details would have to be worked out but measures which demanded the number and the locations of traps be collected and logged, thus available for inspection at any given time. Any breach would be noted on a totting up process.
        As for the will to enforce it then that’s where Public Opinion enters the fray. Polls suggest that we have a large portion of the public which are appalled at the current state of affairs. Creating strategies to mobilise them in a more pro-active form as a part of a general conservation policy could be mulled over.
        Local wildlife groups could be approached and asked to help monitor any estates suspected of illegal activities. Photographs and locations of any breaches could be collected too. I’m sure that activities would gain their own momentum once initiated.
        Take this as an exercise in “brain storming” but there is a high probability that they will not ban DGS outright so maintaining the momentum could be the next big task. l

  4. A slap in the face of the various people and agencies who worked hard to bring Wilson to court and to put together the case against him effectively enough that he had no option but to plead guilty.

  5. Goshawks, buzzards, a peregrine (although the peri was discovered in the same woodland as the other raptors Wilson’s ‘not guilty’ plea for this bird was accepted by the Fiscal as part of bargaining…but let’s not forget that bird also, which was shot) otter, badgers. All of these animals had been shot and found in a small woodland which keeper Wilson managed. A fen trap was also found on the ground next to a dead pigeon staked to the ground as well as a ‘Swedish goshawk trap’ (A Larson mate type trap with a compartment at the bottom where live pigeons would go as live bait. All this and effectively a slap on the wrist. Green light to others to carry on with their criminality but just be a bit more careful. I was outside court today when this keeper actually ran out of court waving his arms in the air in, with a big green on his face, presumably celebrating he GOT AWAY WITH IT.

  6. I’m utterly shocked and bloody furious, I had thought a custodial sentence a certainty. This no deterrent whatsoever for the criminal fraternity within shooting and they are not scarce to start with. This is a very bad day for those engaged in trying to prevent and prosecute wildlife crime, the Crown must surely appeal this sentence. This man should have gone to prison there are no two ways about it.

  7. Woefully inadequate sentence. The powers that be really need to get a grip on this, they’re having a laugh! Are they really serious about tackling wildlife crime? However, I have thought about how Wilson can carry out his 225 hours of Community Payback; make him clean up ‘stinkpits’! Every single last one of them.

  8. I’ve not read the Scottish bits of the Act lately, but in England and Wales penalties are often described as ‘per offence’. It’s not as if he only committed one crime so quite why he couldn’t be given multiple 6 month sentences consecutively is beyond me. I imagine the usual trolls are having a field day with this on SM

  9. I am shocked and horrified…. Just what sort of wildlife crime do you have to commit to warrant a custodial sentence and/or heavy fine, then? The message is clear: ‘You can do anything you like on a Grouse Moor… ‘,

    So, Scottish Ministers have (for whatever reason ?) managed to ensure no offenders are jailed for less than 12 months…. Well, this man should have been jailed for more than 12, a lot more… How about 6 months for each crime (and that’s showing more mercy than he showed). And a second offence should carry a higher penalty.

    Nicola Sturgeon seems reluctant to reply to tweets and e-mails, but we know what she thinks about wildlife crime now! We’ve got to get everyone we can to sign the petition – driven grouse shooting has to be banned.

  10. I am not in the least surprised by this. The entire time and expense of investigation and prosecution is a pointless waste. Worst of all, in some respect, is that the Yahoos in Mickey Mouse Holyrood preside over this endless national outrage.

  11. I was expecting a short jail term, this is a very lenient sentence, useless, no deterent, should have been sent away for 3 years, and probably been out in 2 , what a horrible sad man he must be.

  12. Will there be any more information coming out about this case? I’m particularly keen to know how exactly the snares were illegal. None of the articles I’ve seen have explained that, only briefly mentioning the snares and not going into much detail about them.

  13. Will the Crown Office appeal this lenient sentencing when they dropped the 2013 Cabrach hen harrier case for no apparent reason?

  14. As he was an employee of the estate, is this an opportunity to level a charge of [Ed: alleged] vicarious liability?

    [Ed: Hi Ian, please read the blog, near the bottom]

  15. Despite all my optimism that things are and will get better, two recent events have brought my crashing back to earth. The first is this sentence, very disappointing to say the least. The second is the two radio tracked eagles that go missing eagles in a very remote location and it appears whoever did it has got away with it. I imagine whoever is responsible for them going missing probably had a few sleepless nights sure they would be caught in those circumstances. As time goes by the must have to pinch themselves that they have got away with it.

    The combination of these two issues is that those who kill our raptors know that even if you kill radio tracked raptors in some remote glen, chances are you still won’t get brought before a court and even if you do you wont go to jail.

  16. The comments on this case reach a new low, almost indistinguishable in their nature from the other side’s online contributions to the ‘debate’. The same bunkered inability or unwillingness to take on board the facts, especially in regard to the context, the same unrealistic expectations and demands, the same vacuous ad hominem ranting about ministers and judges, the same paranoia about corruption, the same class stereotypes, although it is certainly a class issue
    The great achievement of RPUK has been to raise the grouse moor issue above the level of two warring and equally tiresome sets of geeks and hobbyists, which is exactly how the public saw it, and demonstrate just how corrupt, vicious and destructive this industry is and how it sits in a wider political context deserving of serious reform by government. You’d never know that reading most of the comments here, even though the facts and circumstances of this case are fairly obvious in the blog.

    1. The ‘context’ is one of the worst examples of protected species being killed in living memory. That you’re unable to see why people would be angry and upset that the sentence clearly does not fit the crime, especially when the offences could be ‘stacked’, speaks more towards your own ignorance. Quite what you hoped to achieve with that pretentious contribution is anyone’s guess.

      1. You don’t have a monopoly on anger regarding this case and no-one is denying that the sentence did not fit the crime.
        The context for that sentence is the change in sentencing policy and its side effects and not, as you suggest, the scale of Wilson’s offence. There have been decades of equally appalling and unpunished wildlife crimes which you may have missed. These are nothing new, but it seems clear we may get better results in the near future and the area to apply pressure is in the proposed raising of the maximum sentence for wildlife crime..
        You have no idea why the Sheriff did not stack the offences and I’d be very surprised if his motives were suspect, rather than cautious.
        Context may seem pretentious to you, but you may prefer wildlife crime to be niche again, where you can be angry in your bubble. I prefer Revive and, hopefully, even Werrity.

        1. Using the ‘both sides’ argument, when comparing people who are outraged about this type of crime and the people who outright deny it, claim ‘set up’, or actually partake in it, is so monumentally disingenuous as to not even warrant a reply.

          “You have no idea why the Sheriff did not stack the offences and I’d be very surprised if his motives were suspect, rather than cautious.”

          Neither do you, which is why your claims are so ridiculous. ‘Caution’ is the very last thing we need at this point, when it’s demonstrably true that wildlife crime is not taken anywhere near seriously enough. This is the same gamekeeper who only last year received a fine for further wildlife abuse. There is your ‘context’.

          It wasn’t the context that was pretentious, it was the idea that you’re somehow ‘above’ the commenters in this blog, many of whom simply echo well known conservationists and RSPB workers – I suppose they are all ‘just as bad’ as the people apologising for such crimes, as well?

          “but you may prefer wildlife crime to be niche again”

          It’s clear that you haven’t thought any of this through.

  17. The level of partnership work in this case sounds like it was very good. Why, though, is the Scottish Environment Protection Agency not in that list of regulatory organisations involved in investigating this case? SEPA deal with waste crimes.

    I’ll say it again – stink pits are illegal! They are nothing more than dumped piles of carcasses deliberately discarded in one place and allowed to rot down to skeletons. That’s an offence! Actually – its quite a lot of offences! I should know because I have, in the past, taken the government and regulatory bodies to court for failing to carry out their duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

    According to the Daily Record, Mr Wilson kept kill lists – one (yes – one!) of which contained 1071 animals. “Most of the dead animals went into an horrific “stink pit” designed to attract birds of prey and other animals”.

    I used to work for a responsible waste company. Had our company deliberately flung waste, especially potentially pathogenic waste, on land, in the open, even with the owner’s permission, we could have expected a visit from the authorities and our license to operate withdrawn! It seems though, that shooting estates aren’t being treated in the same way.

    The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA, Part II, S33) prohibits the unauthorised or harmful disposal or treatment of commercial or industrial waste and creates a number of offences relating to the disposal of such waste.

    In addition, S34 of the EPA imposes a duty on individuals who produce, keep or manage controlled commercial or industrial waste to take reasonable measures to:

    (a) Prevent any contravention by any other person of section 33 EPA; and
    to ensure that their waste is:
    (b) Stored and transported appropriately and securely so it doesn’t escape;
    (c)(i) Transported and handled by people and businesses that are authorised to do so; and
    (c)(ii) Ensure that a written description of the waste is transferred with the waste. This must be done in order to help other people avoid breaching any duty of care (under S33 of the EPA) or the terms of a permit (authorising the operation of a prescribed process such as a waste management licence) or the duty (under S33(b)) to prevent the escape of the waste.

    The use of wild animal bodies as bait in stink pits potentially breaches S33 and S34 of the EPA.

    The Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) (Scotland) Regulations 2014 also impose a duty of care on businesses as regards waste management. Regulations 3 and 5 require people transferring and receiving waste to complete waste transfer notes (including a written description of the waste); to document all waste movements; and keep them as a record for at least two years. Copies of Waste Transfer Notes should be kept both by the transferor and the transferee. The Duty of Care legislation is designed to assist in tracking movements of waste. No such process takes place when wild animal bodies are used as bait.

    The paper trail enables SEPA to conduct spot checks to ascertain whether businesses are complying with waste laws. Will SEPA spot check this business?

    If any shooting businesses are found to be in breach of waste regulations, will they be prosecuted under the vicarious liability legislation?

  18. Shocked at no custodial sentence. Others who behave similarly have been given a green light to continue in the knowledge that their “boss” will foot any fine and legal costs. Lets continue with putting pressure on politicians to get a complete ban on Driven grouse shooting and a better approach to management of the moors for the benefit of carbon sequestration and water retention.

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