No prosecution for shooting of a hen harrier in Bowland

On 18 October 2019 a member of the public witnessed what he believed to be the shooting of an adult male hen harrier near White Syke Hill in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

North Yorkshire Police (whose force area covers that tiny part of Bowland) put out an appeal for information five months later (see here).

A few days later, North Yorkshire Police announced that an arrest had been made in this investigation and the suspect had been released pending the results of a forensic analysis (see here).

[A male hen harrier, photo by Eddie Maguire]

Unfortunately the police have now concluded there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution.

Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force said: “This case is an all too familiar scenario where we have information from a credible source, but unfortunately the evidence is not strong enough to meet the threshold where we would ask the Crown Prosecution Service to make a charging decision, even after the arrest and interview of a suspect.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage anyone with any information regarding any individuals who are involved in raptor persecution to come forward and report it to the police and assure them they will be taken seriously and the matter will be investigated.”

This is a disappointing result, of course, but as many blog readers will know, securing sufficient evidence in these cases is notoriously difficult. Full credit to North Yorkshire Police for giving it a go. This case didn’t fail for lack of effort and at least that suspect will now be on their radar.

As far as we’re aware, North Yorkshire Police are still investigating the alleged shooting of another hen harrier on another Yorkshire grouse moor (see earlier blog here) so fingers crossed for a prosecution on that one.

Now that the Bowland investigation has ended, part of the eyewitness report of the hen harrier being shot and removed from the moor has been published by the RSPB (see here) and it makes for a disturbing read.

22 thoughts on “No prosecution for shooting of a hen harrier in Bowland”

  1. Just publish his name and which estate he works on,enough said.

    [Ed: That’d be incredibly irresponsible, Brian and is exactly why we wouldn’t be publishing it even if we knew who he was (which we don’t). Had there been sufficient evidence for a charge then that would be different, the law permits publication in those circumstances]

  2. That is about 1km (0.75-1.75km) from where NE Hen Harrier 73584 mysteriously stopped transmitting at SD714612 on 16 May 2009. I hope the police are aware of these patterns!
    Just another coincidence to add to the 2 that disappeared within 3 days of each other up Roeburndale in 2010 and then Skye and Hope that were killed up Roeburndale 4 years later in 2014 again within 3 days of each other. And then Thor in 2018 right between Sky and Hope. All of these within 7km of each other.
    I wrote to the police and had phone conversations with them and NE and e-mailed Nick Lyall in 2018 but still the killing continues.
    There really aren’t that many suspects here.

    1. Roeburndale and the area where those four harriers disappeared is a different equally harrier unfriendly estate to this Anand.

      1. Yes there are 2 clusters (with one another in between) but they are all close as the Hen Harrier flies.
        SD714612 on 16 May 2009 was 1 km from where this recent bird was seen being killed.

  3. The RSPB blog is sad reading. One day the next gamekeeper will face a court and be convicted. I just hope that it is in Scoand and the book can be thrown at the perpetrator once the law has been changed.

  4. The most frustrating thing about this and a number of other cases is that the police as well as many of us know who the culprit(s) are but there is either not enough evidence to proceed or CPS believe the case is unwinnable. It is difficult to see that changing in many cases, however if sentencing options were to be increased then the police have more detection options such as surveillance available. Perhaps we should be pushing harder for that.
    The estate concerned used to have successfully breeding harriers but not since the current incumbent became the keeper and that was thirty years ago!

    1. Sadly that doesn’t just apply to raptor crime. With most organised crime, the Police have a pretty good idea who did it, but proving it is equally challenging, due to similar silence from the community

  5. When it comes to wildlife crimes,I lost faith in both the Police and the justice system a long time ago. These people who commit wildlife crimes seems to have both the Police and justice system on their side. The system needs a complete over haul. Maybe it is time to take the power of investigating wildlife crime away from the Police and allow the RSPB/RSPCA to do it. Maybe then we will see real justice

    1. Tony, I don’t believe those that commit wildlife crimes have the police “on their side”.
      The modern day police service is not “in the pocket” of local landowners, and the modern police wildlife officers takes a very open mind when it comes to investigations, and will take an investigation down the path where the evidence leads.
      Whilst the RSPB can provide evidence to a police investigation, it is not a “prosecuting body”.
      The RSPCA have sadly faced much criticism about their charity status when they have tried to bring prosecutions without handing investigations over to the police and CPS. (fox hunting comes to mind!!)

      The problems faced by wildlife investigations are numerous:
      – lack of eye witness evidence
      – lack of forensic evidence to put suspects at crime scenes
      – the justice system is built around the police having to prove their case, the suspect has to prove nothing and is presumed innocent.
      – I suspect any gamekeeper suspected of committing a wildlife offence will be provided with very good, and very expensive legal counsel by the shooting estate they work for. Good legal counsel knows how to manipulate the justice in the best interest of their client.
      – I would suspect that in interview with the police, the game keeper will simply provide ” a no comment interview” and as such will not incriminate him or herself.
      – It will be entirely for the police to establish the facts, and as mentioned above the frequent lack of other available evidence will make this very difficult.
      – Finally, even once an investigation is complete, it then becomes a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to proceed with a prosecution. A number of factors will come into play, primarily does the evidence pass the threshold test to have a realistic chance for a successful prosecution at court, (a case can not be built on circumstantial evidence alone), as well as other matters like public interest and witness credibility.

      In his comment above Paul touches on a very important issue- sentencing options, and the effect this has on police investigation options. Without tougher sentencing then the seriousness of the crime in the eyes of the justice system means the police can not use covert surveillance on suspects.

      If we want to see a higher success in wildlife prosecutions then there must be a change in legislation to allow the police to use covert surveillance to gather evidence.

      So you are right in that the odds are heavily stacked in favour of those committing wildlife crimes, but this is not the fault of the police or even the CPS.

      It needs a realisation by politicians that wildlife crime has to be taken more seriously, with both increases in sentences following conviction, as well as a range of other measures, such as a cessation of any public funding to things like stewardship grants or rural payments on land where wildlife crimes have been committed, even if the perpetrator is not convicted at court.

      Hopefully as public awareness of raptor persecution increases, it will be public opinion which finally tips the balance, and politicians will have recognise that in a democracy they have to represent the majority of the population, and not the minority of wealthy landowners who won’t join the 21st century and accept wildlife is to be cherished and protected, and not simply shot in some primitive belief that they have the right!!

      1. Once again you and Paul V Irving have some strong points to make. Thank you.

        We need to write to our MPs and MSPs calling for this change in the law!

      2. I totally get that without any objective evidence ie the corpse, (which was probably hurried away to be burnt & its ashes tipped in the river), one eyewitness testimony is useless. But I am curious…in same scenarion of no corpse if two or more eyewitnesses independent of each other witnessed it, then would the CPS be likely to proceed? Thanks.

        1. To try and answer your question.
          The lack of the dead birds body is a potential stumbling block, – as without the dead bird and proving the cause of death- then the actual killing could be disputed by the defendant? But if the witness is absolutely sure that they saw the bird being shot then there are other hurdles for the police investigation.

          I suspect one such problem for the police, is proving who was the person who fired the gun. Even with two or more eyewitnesses, who witnessed a bird being shot, this is not as simple as we might like to believe.
          Without going into too much legal detail, proving a suspects identification beyond all reasonable doubt based solely on eye witness evidence and without DNA, fingerprint or other evidence can be very difficult.

          The first question to be answered is whether the suspect is known to the witness, and how sure is the witness that they properly recognised that person?

          If you imagine the scenario of being out on the moor and seeing a person in the distance fire a gun and shoot a bird, that person is dressed in outdoor clothing, and then rides off on a quad bike or gets into an off road vehicle and drives away.

          Did the witness actually see the face of the person who fired the gun at a closest enough proximity and for sufficient length of time to recognise that person?
          Is that person known to the witness or was that person a complete stranger?

          Code D of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act applies to the identification procedures the police must follow.

          If the culprit was a complete stranger, the police could take the witness back onto the moor in the hope of seeing the suspect again?

          Or more probably, if the police have a suspect they have identified through their enquiries, but who denies being responsible for the crime, then an identification procedure must be followed. (if a suspect provides a “no comment interview” to the police then this is not an admission, and it is for the police to prove the suspects involvement)
          Is the witness able to identify the suspect again?
          Can the witness pick out the suspect from the identification procedure?
          This can be very difficult as most eye witnesses to an event usually recollect a person involved by their clothing (ie a man in a green jacket) and not by that persons actual facial or body features- so picking out that person later in a formal identification procedure, when the suspect is wearing different clothing can be very difficult, especially if the witness only viewed the suspect from some distance away or only for a short length of time.

          Even if the witness had the presence of mind to capture the incident as a video on their mobile phone- are the images of suitable quality to be able to identify the suspect?

          It is for this reason that the police usually try and support witness evidence with other forensic evidence which can not be so easily refuted. On a moor, forensic opportunities for the police are very limited.

          So the police and CPS in deciding whether to proceed with a prosecution have to weigh up all the evidence and decide whether the evidence as a whole is sufficient to take the matter for trial at court.

          Evidence in wildlife investigations is problematic.

          It is for this reason that there must be a change in the law, so that the police can use other investigative tools which are governed by legislation, which are available to them for the more serious crimes, but are not presently available for wildlife crime. (not that killing raptors isn’t serious!)
          I hope this goes part way to answering your question?

          1. Thanks for that great reply. Last question if I dare…we know that, while waiting for the plods to arrive, keepers often detain “poachers” (ie tracksuited youths with air rifles & lurchers) by variously sitting on them, locking them in trailers, holding them by the scruff of the neck, running them off the road and blocking them in or threatening them with broken legs. But what can honest Joe Public lawfully do to detain someone who has just shot a buzzard and is striding back to their Hilux with it in their pocket? Let’ s say this occurs on CROW land. Thanks.

            1. The short is answer is you can not detain the offender!

              The reasons are as follows:

              Sect 24A of The Police and criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows a person other than a police constable to arrest a person in certain circumstances.

              Sect 24a sets out the following:
              (1) A person other than a constable may arrest without a warrant—
              (a) anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence;
              (b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an
              indictable offence.

              (2) Where an indictable offence has been committed, a person other than a
              constable may arrest without a warrant—
              (a) anyone who is guilty of the offence;
              (b) anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of it.

              (3) But the power of summary arrest conferred by subsection (1) or (2) is exercisable
              only if—
              (a) the person making the arrest has reasonable grounds for believing that for any of
              the reasons mentioned in subsection (4) it is necessary to arrest the person in
              question; and
              (b ) it appears to the person making the arrest that it is not reasonably practicable for
              a constable to make it instead.

              (4) The reasons are to prevent the person in question—
              (a) causing physical injury to himself or any other person;
              (b) suffering physical injury;
              (c) causing loss of or damage to property; or
              (d) making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him.”

              So to summarise, if you witnessed an indictable offence being committed or in circumstances where an indictable offence had been committed, then you could arrest the person you had reasonable grounds for believing had committed that offence. But only if a police officer wasn’t able to make the arrest, and only to prevent the offender causing physical injury to himself or another, suffering physical injury, causing loss or damage to property (wild birds aren’t property!) or making an escape before police arrival.

              The main problem for members of the public will be knowing what is an indictable offence.

              An indictable offence is one which is tried in a Crown Court as opposed to the Magistrates court. Indictable offences are generally the more serious offences such as murder, rape or serious assault.

              Wildlife crimes, such as killing a wild bird is an offence under the Countryside and Wildlife Act, and is not an indictable offence, but is one which is tried in the Magistrates court.

              So if you witnessed someone shooting a buzzard, you cannot arrest/detain that person until the police arrive. (if you tried to detain someone using force- you would be committing an offence yourself!)

              The best course of action would be to try and capture images of the offender on camera, and details of any vehicle they are using, especially the registration plate number. I would also advise that the police are called immediately. You could approach that person and explain that they have committed an offence and the police have been called and ask them to wait. Very unlikely they will wait for the police arrival but it’s an option. It’s also a course of action I would not recommend unless you are with other people, so that there are other witnesses to what has happened, and also the presence of other people will hopefully reduce the likelihood of any confrontation developing between you and the offender.

              First and foremost don’t put yourself at risk, and be very careful if they are in possession of a firearm.

              A further power of arrest is afforded to citizens through Common Law when a Breach of the Peace occurs. A Breach of the Peace, is not really a crime, but is be said to occur whenever harm is actually done or is likely to be done to a person or, in his presence damage to his property, or where a person is in fear of being harmed through an assault.

              A citizen may arrest the perpetrator when:
              (a) a breach of the peace is committed in his/her presence,
              (b) the person effecting the arrest reasonably believes that such a breach will be committed in the immediate future by the offender, or
              (c) a breach of the peace has been committed and that a further breach of the peace is threatened by the offender.

              In the event that you asked the person who shot the buzzard to await police arrival, and they then threatened you, then it could be argued a Breach of the Peace had occurred and you would have a power of arrest in these circumstances.
              However, this is really not a position you want to get into, as you may find the offender makes accusations against you. It is never worth escalating an incident to provoke violence.

              Your best course of action, would be to act solely as a witness and try and provide the police with the best possible evidence of the offence which has taken place.

              – Capture the incident and offender on camera or video- smart phones are useful.
              – Obtain the registration number of any vehicles involved.
              – If other people, witnessed the incident, ask if they would leave contact details for the police.
              – Identify the exact location of the incident by using What3Words- you can down load the app onto a smart phone.
              – Call the police immediately, explain to the police telephone operator it is an ongoing crime- if officers are in the area, and available they should be dispatched to your location. If the offence has occurred on remote moorland and you can know where the tracks leading off the moor come out onto the road, then pass this information to the police, so they can try and get an officer to that location to apprehend the offender as they leave the moor.
              (but this may well depend on the that particular police services policy in relation to wildlife crime, and whether they respond immediately or deal with the matter later !)

              Sorry, it’s a long answer but hopefully it provides some clarity on what you can and cannot do; and what may be the best course of action to help the police bring the offender to justice?

  6. I wonder if you were on one of these estates and deliberately or by accident set fire to these moors would there be “insufficient evidence or uncorroborated evidence”. The answer of course is there would lots of gamekeepers and “members of the public” who would witness this. The whole legal system is against the conservation movement and frankly the police are never or rarely going to get a conviction.

  7. I hope the gamekeeper whose beat this was one is severely reprimanded since he has let someone drive a large all terrain vehicle into the heart of his beat and commit a wildlife crime. No doubt the gamekeeper responsible for this area will apologise to the general public for coming short in his guardianship of the countryside.

  8. If this was true why wasn’t the incident filmed or photographed. He just happened to have a note book and pen but no phone ????

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