Red kite killed in barbaric illegal trap on pheasant-shooting estate – no prosecution

A red kite suffered a brutal and agonizing death when it was caught in a barbaric illegal trap at a pheasant-release pen on an unnamed Berkshire shooting estate in August 2020.

A member of the public found the dead kite, hanging upside down with its legs caught in a pole trap, a cruel device that has been outlawed since 1904.

[Red kite hanging dead in an illegal pole trap on a Berkshire shooting estate. Photos via RSPB].

The member of the public reported the incident to the estate (please note – if you find something like this report it to the police and the RSPB, straight away). A gamekeeper was reportedly abusive and threatening in response.

The incident was reported to the RSPB a couple of days later, who contacted Thames Valley Police. Fortunately in this instance, senior estate officials had already reported the crime to the police and had instructed the gamekeeper to retrieve the dead kite and the illegal trap.

The gamekeeper was interviewed and denied setting the trap on his pheasant pen and claimed it was ‘a set-up’.

There appears to be insufficient evidence to progress a prosecution.

For further details of this horrific crime, and the ongoing difficulty of securing sufficient evidence for a prosecution, please see the RSPB Investigations Team’s blog here.

51 thoughts on “Red kite killed in barbaric illegal trap on pheasant-shooting estate – no prosecution”

  1. Licensing is needed for all shooting practices. The owners of this estate may have acted properly once the crime had been discovered but if they haven’t sacked the gamekeeper they are just as culpable. They should lose the right to host shoots.

  2. Whether or not the landowner knew what the gamekeeper was doing he/she should be prosecuted. Perhaps then land owners would be more careful about who they employ.
    This is a sickening act of cruelty, which should not go unpunished. In the meantime presumably the land owner is making money from the pheasant shootd

  3. This is disgraceful on more than one count the gamekeeper is very lucky and the lack of police action is appalling .
    I just hope the people who found this are keeping a close eye on the “set up” gamekeeper.

    1. I only disagree on one word, ‘lucky’. It isn’t luck that the whole system lets whoever did this get away with it without any fear of being prosecuted. As Simon Tucker writes above we need licensing of ALL shooting and yesterday.

  4. Insufficient evidence..is that apart from the mangled body of a wild creature caught in a primitive instrument of torture in the ‘place of work’ of this vile savage.

    1. No, sadly. Without direct proof this gamekeeper set the trap or that he was instructed to do so by the estate then there is no chance of any kind of prosecution, private or public.

      What is more interesting (worrying?) is that the excuse used after the usual blank denial was that ‘it was a set up’. We’ve heard this before from time to time but now licencing of DGS is being introduced in Scotland, the shooting fraternity wants to establish ‘it was a set up’ as a credible (?!) reason for not having their licences removed when similar evidence of raptor persecution is found.

      The ‘bad apple’ excuse has been ridiculed out of contention as remotely credible (was it ever?). As a result the shooters now want everyone to believe they are ‘victims’ of viscous, cruel and ‘politically motivated’ animal rights activists. That anyone who supports animal rights or loves wildlife would ever even consider doing this is preposterous but that’s what they want the public to believe. It’s actually what psychologists call ‘projection’, which is to say it’s exactly the kind of thing the shooters would do.

      Needless to say, the accusation is entirely baseless and without a shred of evidence. It is disingenuous at best and mendaciously deceitful in reality. In fact it’s rather pathetic that they would even think anyone would believe it. We know we have them rattled. They know we have them rattled. We must keep up the pressure and we must ensure this latest excuse is also ridiculed out of any pretence of credibility.

      1. As Paul Irving has pointed out the keeper was likely there a couple of time per day so how he failed to notice this “setup” . It feels like the police have just rolled over. Sadly there is no vicarious liability in England.

      2. Well, they keep blustering on about the burden of proof when it comes to ‘disappeared’ raptors so we can turn that on the bastards when they decry “it’s a set up!” Prove it!

  5. O Yeh This is an example of the shooting fraternity who say that they can regulate their employees to obey the current laws without the need for licenseing. BOLLOCKS. Can’t even stop the use of traps which have been illegal for over a century.
    Gamekeeper claims it was a “set-up” again BOLLOCKS. Is it not incumbant on him to check his Pheasant cages on a regular basis???

  6. Actually I do agree with suggestion made by EricH. Private prosecutions, where the circumstances of the crime and the subsequent liklihood of responsibility are most salient, could lead to a more positive response by the CPS, should there be a guilty verdict . Why not? Maybe a successful test case would dent the confidence of these wildlife criminals.

    1. Insufficient evidence. I bet if I have razor wire on my fence and somebody got injured climbing over it there wouldn’t be insufficient evidence. There a complete sham these laws of ours.

  7. Having made a few passionate posts this morn and as more articles slipped into my inbox, I’ve read this just as I finished my last post, and am in such despair that I am quietly retiring from any/all of my tech devices for the rest of the day. The emotion brought forth with each new article is breathtakingly painful and at such a level right now, only a determined enforced relinquishing of my mobile to a drawer, a cup of tea and a seat in the small back garden, can assuage or calm it. What an horrific amount of pictures doing a slideshow through my mind right now, is too unbearable to describe. Thank you to everyone here who remains so steadfast and determined, you also help fill in the moments when a few of us need to take a moment to catch our breath and refresh our resolve (never lost, only trapped for a moment). Warmest of regards and best wishes to all of you. ladybudd

  8. In over 20 years as a full time wildlife crime investigator I only came across one genuine “set-up” and that was by one keeper on another. Its the favoured false excuse of the petty criminal in all walks of life. Fenn traps should be outlawed, full stop.

      1. Nick, The RSPB is a conservation organisation. They use science to inform any predator control that they do (a tiny fraction of what released bird shoots get up to). Ridding an island of an invasive species is sometimes necessary for the greater good. I don’t think released bird shooting should involve use of fenn traps at all, too much of a conflict of interest and in many cases not a genuine conservation need.

    1. It does seem to be the favoured excuse of all those in the shooting fraternity. I parked my vehicle outside the entrance to a new shooting “estate” in mid-Wales recently, came back about four hours later to find two slashed tyres. The gamkekeeper’s story was that it had been done by protestors to bring the estate into disrepute.

  9. Set up my arse. If this was a release pen then a keeper would have been there once or twice a day to check on his charges. Even after release the pheasants may well have been fed adjacent to the pen, so this excuse does not wash. Question for the police who are not presumably investigating further is the keepers DNA or finger prints on the trap? It is sickening not only that this barbaric trap was set and successfully caught a kite but the easy way these barbarous criminals get away with it even when the crime is discovered. NEVER EVER report what you find to the estate go straight to RSPB investigations and the police if they advise it. Oh for licencing of ALL shoots in England and vicarious liability. Abusive keeper read probably guilty keeper! Sickening truly sickening.

  10. Any responsible estate, you would have thought, could have no argument supporting legislation that would have legal traps registered and plated with the name of the estate and a contact number on the trap. Any other trap or mechanism would be deemed illegal, basically giving anyone discovering it the right to “render it harmless”

  11. Hi Simon, I think the “may have” that you included in your comment is critical. I will make the disclaimer that I know nothing about this Estate or the Berkshire shooting scene. However, if it happened in the areas I do know then I would just assume it’s simply a “Cover Your Arse” exercise by the Agent / Manager. I could be wrong but the stated “retrieve” of the trap is likely to be a ploy to provide an “innocent” reason for the keepers fingerprints being all over the trap.

    1. Why have you stopped naming the estates RPUK? Is it because of possible libel? I’m sure we’ll all crowdfund you so name the bastards.

  12. Anandprasad wrote:-

    “I only disagree on one word, ‘lucky’. It isn’t luck that the whole system lets whoever did this get away with it without any fear of being prosecuted.”

    ABSOLUTELY CORRECT !

    The system is rigged heavily in three main areas:-
    Apprehension, prosecution and punishment of the criminals. Success in these areas is vital, but they are all abysmal failures.

    Anyone who thinks that licensing will improve matters needs to consider how to prevent the licensing system being corrupt because the people who preside over the current state of affairs will be the same same people who will preside over licensing. The outcome will be status quo.

  13. All shooting should be banned, there is no good reason for anybody to have any kind of gun, and there is no good reason for anybody to kill, injure or capture any wild animals, birds or fish.

  14. Interested to find out if the trap is routinely confiscated in such cases – there’s a suggestion that the trap with/and the red kite had been removed by the gamekeeper at the instruction of senior estate officials – it’s unclear whether these were made available to the police – if the estate officials reported the crime, while basically denying all knowledge of it’s existence prior to that, saw fit to remove potential evidence. “Evidence” in this case is the admitted removal of potential evidence. The estate officials, in essence, assumed responsibility for the removal of that evidence – is that what lessened the chances of the gamekeeper being charged ? – or does that instruction open the door to a vicarious charge if it could be proved the gamekeeper was responsible for the setting of the trap ? Who now has taken possession of the trap ?

  15. This is so utterly sickening.. Possession of these outlawed traps and poisons should be offences of strict liability (ie, if it’s on your land, you’re committing an offence) for the operator of the shoot. There’s no excuse for anyone to have them! Agree with everyone else re vicarious liability for the landowner and licencing. Unfortunately the local police probably aren’t the best people to rely on for enforcement – their relationships with the estates are likely to be far too cosy or feudal..

  16. The lies these gamekeepers and landowners tell. No prosecution! How many times have police praecuted general public after finding ilegal things in their homes? one rule for the priveleged so cslled elite and another for us.

  17. Just tell the police that it was a ‘set-up’ – of course that being a smokescreen for the reality of the situation – just like the trail hunters. How long will such excuses be believed?

  18. “senior estate officials had already reported the crime to the police and had instructed the gamekeeper to retrieve the dead kite and the illegal trap.”

    I’m a simple person, but isn’t that (knowingly?) tampering with evidence? Surely the trap should have been left (untouched) where it was until the police came to investigate?

    1. Certainly if it was a ‘set-up’! If I was an estate agent/manager and had been set-up in similar circumstances I would forbid any of my employees to go anywhere near it for evidential reasons……their removal of the evidence from the ‘scene of the crime’ would make me extremely suspicious if I was the investigating officer. But hey ho, policing has changed since my day!

  19. The criminal who perpetrated this is sick. The game bird shooting industry is sick. British justic is sick.

  20. This incident highlights the complete weakness that current legislation and investigative powers have in protecting our wildlife.

    Whilst I suspect that notifying the keeper suspected of this crime at the very outset didn’t help the investigation, it would be very interesting to know exactly what investigative strategies were adopted by the police to identify those responsible for this horrific crime, and how the law constricted that investigation.

    Was it simply a matter of bringing the suspect in for questioning and then accepting the explanation offered. How was the truthfulness of that explanation tested?

    The fact the keeper had already retrieved the dead bird and trap prior the commencement of the police investigation would have compromised any forensic evidence these items may have offered.

    I note the keeper is reported in his account, to have alleged that the the trap had been deliberately set by someone trying to “set up” the whole incident.

    So how would licensing help in this case?

    Whilst I understand that under a licensing scheme, the burden of proof will fall to the lower civil test, -how will that deal with a case where the keeper or estate allege that they are the victim of a malicious set up??

    This is an issue which is already being raised with the proposed introduction of licensing in Scotland.

    I believe, that the authorities are still going to have to prove that on the “balance of probabilities”, the estate or someone working on behalf of the estate was responsible for any crimes which have taken place. I suspect it won’t simply be the case that every time a wildlife crime is reported an estate will loose its licence.

    Licensing by itself will also not enhance the police’s ability to investigate wildlife crimes.

    I note that recent changes to legislation in Scotland have increased the sentencing powers in relation to some wildlife crimes. Hopefully this should then mean that these crimes fall within the scope of (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act ) -RIPA during an investigation.
    Whilst this is welcome news. Anyone who has worked with RIPA will understand the challenges this will bring, and I suspect it won’t be the case that authority will necessary be given for covert surveillance or any of the other investigative techniques, every time a wildlife crime is investigated.

    I would strongly argue that due to the unique nature of wildlife crimes- a victim which can not report a crime or provide an account, the remoteness of many of the crime scenes, the lack of witness evidence, the difficulties with retrieving forensic evidence etc. Then the law should recognise the unique challenges that this creates for any investigation, and include within the wildlife legislation itself, investigative powers for the police or other authorised investigators, so that they are able to conduct a thorough and robust investigation without hinderance from the fact wildlife crimes are not indictable, or having to tiptoe around RIPA to gain authority for certain investigation methods.

    Is this something conservation bodies should be campaigning for?
    I note some contributors to this blog don’t believe licensing will eradicate raptor persecution, -so with the proposed introduction of a licensing scheme to Scotland, would now be the time to campaign for a review of the actual wildlife legislation and investigative powers?

    There has to be concern that if licensing is introduced, and it fails to eradicate wildlife crime, then it could be difficult in the future for conservationists to demand changes to wildlife legislation in order to try and resolve the weaknesses in wildlife crime investigations.
    The shooting industry will simply cry foul.
    Politicians might be reluctant to make future changes to the law, citing the fact that they have already introduced licensing on the shooting industry, and further measures would be draconian.

    Personally, I believe we need both licensing and a review of wildlife legislation, so that there is a more realistic chance of bringing the wildlife criminals to justice. Every time I read a report like this one, just hardens my resolve!

    1. Hi John, my hope is that a licensing system would embrace technology in the form of GPS database registering & micro-chipping which will be fitted to traps & snares. To be utilised on a database and checked by some authorised person(s). All of this stuff is used in other areas of modern life. Some tech is already in use in the keepering world (though not popular) for use with tunnel / stoat traps to notify keepers when a trap has sprung. It can all easily be done. If it costs a bit of money – so what? The Estates can pay for it as part of their Licence Fee. After all they have been abusing our wildlife for free for a couple of hundred years!

      1. Hi
        Thanks for sharing your hopes. It is a nice idea, and whilst those estates who want to try and do everything lawfully could embrace such technology. I suspect those with criminal tendencies will continual to use old Fenn traps mounted on posts to target raptors, and then claim that the trap was set by someone trying to discredit the estate?
        Whatever rules are put in place through a licensing scheme, I am sure the criminals will come up with ways to negotiate around, them whilst trying to avoid culpability.
        The problem is much of our grouse moors are on open access land, so it will always be easy to claim a 3rd party has placed the trap without the landowner or his agents knowledge or permission.
        It might be more easy to dispute such a claim on private land, as any 3rd party would have to be a trespasser, and ease of access would become an issue in any investigation.
        I think the problem is we are dealing with people who place no intrinsic value on the life of a wild animal or bird. The concept of wild animals being sentient creatures which suffer pain, and have a right to live without unnecessary interference from humans is something which most probably alludes these people?
        It is a mindset of ” I own this land, and what is on this land is mine to do with as I want”, even though wild animals can’t be owned.
        I am sure such people enjoy killing game birds as a commercially organised recreational activity where bag numbers are all that matter, and not as a source of food, as is so often claimed.
        Despite all those landowners who do try and manage their estates lawfully. This commercial interest, and the lack of any realistic prospect of getting caught and facing justice for committing unlawful acts, is no doubt attractive to those with criminal tendencies! The criminal by definition will break the rules!!
        It is probably realistic to accept that until all those who shoot, decide not to shoot on land or estates where unlawful activity is reported or suspected, then we will continue to see horrific wildlife crimes like the one involving this Red Kite. Sadly that day will probably never come as there will always be some individuals who aren’t interested in anything other than themselves, and only want large numbers of birds to blast away at!!
        Even though I can’t understand what pleasure people gain from killing a wild animal, maybe licensing will help those who do have some ethical values choose wisely when they decide where to shoot?? But that will very much depend on how effective any licensing scheme is!

  21. Good, moral people have spent a lot of time, energy and expense to bring back these beautiful birds. Then mindless barbarians with no respect for our wildlife do this. Worse still, they escape prosecution. The corruption of our judicial system is now plain for all to see.

  22. Absolutely appalling, such a iconic bird of prey , they should stick the perpetrator in is own trap , evil bastard.

    1. Yes, I think the time has come for the estate/landowner to be named every time a raptor disappears or is found dead in suspicious circumstances. It is not libelous, in my view, simply to state that the bird was found on, or its last transmission was from, such-and-such estate and nothing more than that. That is fact, is not disputable and no implication is being advanced. Time to start taking the gloves off methinks.

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