Gamekeeper convicted for pesticide and firearms offences but buzzard-poisoning charge is dropped

Last week I blogged about how a Suffolk gamekeeper was due at Ipswich Magistrates Court to face a charge of poisoning a buzzard, having already pleaded guilty to several pesticide storage and firearms offences (see here).

This case stemmed from a multi-agency raid last January (here) after the discovery of an illegally poisoned buzzard in September 2020 which had been found close to pheasant-rearing pens near Lakenheath.

[The illegally-poisoned buzzard found close to the pheasant-rearing pens. Photos by RSPB]

The case was heard yesterday and it appears that the buzzard-poisoning charge was dropped, probably due to insufficient evidence, because despite the gamekeeper having this particular poison (Bendiocarb) in his possession, the prosecution would need to demonstrate that he was the person who laid the poisoned bait that subsequently killed this buzzard. The fact that the poisoned buzzard was found in close proximity to his workplace, and that he had the same poison in his possession, is simply not enough.

We can all draw our own conclusions of course, based on the balance of probability, but in English law the balance of probability is insufficient to convict for this particular offence. That’s not the fault of the police, the RSPB, the Crown Prosecution Service or the magistrate.

In this case, the gamekeeper, Shane Leech, 33, of Maids Cross Hill, Lakenheath, Suffolk, was convicted of six charges relating to pesticide and firearms offences and was given a Community Order of 80 hours unpaid work, ordered to pay £105 costs and a £95 Victim Surcharge.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the punishment fits the crime(s) and whether it offers any semblance of a deterrent to anyone who might be considering committing similar offences.

The RSPB has published two blogs about this case. The first one provides an overview of the case and offers praise to the work of Suffolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (see here).

The second blog is a more detailed discussion about the difficulties of bringing a successful prosecution for the illegal poisoning of birds of prey (see here). It also includes this shocking image of a pile of dead pheasants apparently being prepared for human consumption in the same room where the poison was being stored illegally!

26 thoughts on “Gamekeeper convicted for pesticide and firearms offences but buzzard-poisoning charge is dropped”

    1. Oh how I wish this was a “reasonable assumption”, but, having read about too many such cases, I assume you are being ironic!

  1. Once again a lenient magistrate xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. One can only hope the police will continue to do their job and he will NEVER be thought fit to hold a firearms licence again and that they will do regular, unannounced spot checks on his property looking for illegal poisons, traps and firearms.

    Who does he work for? Does he still work for them? That will say an awful lot about who is ultimately responsible for his crimes xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

    We need a proper vicarious liability law in the UK (Scotland’s isn’t worth the paper it is written on).

  2. Would he have had a stiffer penalty under health and safety legislation for storing the pheasant carcases and pesticide in the same place?

  3. 33 years old – so the new generation of gamekeeper is more progressive, more conservation orientated and raptor persecution will fizzle out. My arse!

  4. So little sentence for so many offences. If this is the best the law can do then there need to be changes to it. How can gamekeepers be held responsible for their actions when the sentences do not in my view reflect the seriousness of the crime. If some human beings were poisoned because of his carelessness then perhaps lawmakers would sit up and do something

  5. Barely a slap on the wrist for having poisons that are utterly lethal WTF. A keeper is supposed to know and stay the right side of the law for me he should have got jail time, this is no deterrent at all, probably less than a shoot days tips.

  6. No I wasn’t being ironic. I’ve been retired over twenty years now but as a police officer I had shotgun licences removed from unsuitable people. This could still be done in this case if it hasn’t been done already

  7. It seems strange to me that the Cant Prosecute Service might have recommended against prosecution when a suspect has (a) motive, (b) been found to be illegally storing Bendiocarb, and (c) an illegally-poisoned-with-Bendiocarb raptor has been found at or near the suspect’s workplace.

    I’m far from convinced that in similar circumstances, but not involving gamekeepers and raptors, the CPS always recommend no prosecution. Quite often magistrates and juries are allowed to make their own minds up with the weight of circumstantial evidence.

    Also curious to learn that all Bendiocarb-containing products have been ‘withdrawn’ from sale in the States, after the manufacturers declined to conduct additional safety studies as required by the EPA. However, it remains one of 12 insecticides recommended by the World Health Organisation for use in malaria control.

    1. “Beyond all reasonable doubt”.

      When it comes to criminal convictions there is a high hurdle of proof. That hurdle remains consistently high. If that hurdle happens to be cleared then it could be found that some penalties have been rather reduced by economic and ecological influences and trends.

    1. I wonder if they were destined for the BGA supply chain, on their way to a supermarket’s inaccurately labelled casserole? Or ‘just’ a local butcher. Either way, if a poultry producer did it there would be something said by the meat inspectors.

  8. Is there any legal avenue where a private prosecution could be pursued in these cases? Private prosecutions are measured on balance of probability.

    Dressing (or undressing) the pheasants in the immediate proximity of a lethal chemical? Hardly up to food prep standards. Hopefully any people or businesses who have been buying produce from the outlet have been paying attention.

  9. “Despite the clear labelling, the defendant had stored it next to items intended for human consumption. He claimed he had not realised it was a professional product and had used it outdoors at home and on his pheasant shoot to control ants.”

    I thought ignorance was no defence in the eye of the law (or is that myth).

    Real Men ™ don’t read the manual (or associated documentation). Even when it is supplied.

  10. Do we know exactly which section of the HSWA, Mr Leech was convicted under?
    According to the HSE website, offences committed under Sect33 relating to breaches of duty under Sect 2-6 can attract a maximum penalty at magistrates court of an unlimited fine and/or 6 months imprisonment.

    I understand the CPS dropped the charge relating to the poisoning of the buzzard (no doubt because there was a low probability the charge would lead to a conviction).

    But this is where I believe the CPS’s actions are flawed. ( I am sure the CPS would disagree!)

    Were the court made aware of the poisoned buzzard?
    Should not the evidence relating to the poisoned buzzard, have been heard along with all the other evidence relating to Mr Leech’s actions? (including why he thought it necessary to have such a strong poison in his possession, the close proximity of the buzzard to the pheasant pens etc, as well as motive, means and opportunity to kill the buzzard?)

    At some stage during the investigation process I assume the police will have sought charging advice from the CPS? So I can only assume a CPS lawyer had reviewed the evidence and agreed on the charge relating to the poisoning of the buzzard. So why was this charge dropped later at court?

    If by dropping the charge, does this mean that the court did not hear the evidence relating to the poisoning of the buzzard? Which could mean that court were not provided with the full picture of what the police believe had happened and the context in which Mr Leech had Bendiocarb in his possession?
    The court might have decided that based on the burden of proof that there was insufficient evidence to convict Mr Leech of the poisoning of the buzzard, but knowledge of the full circumstances in which Mr Leech was in possession of Bendiocarb and all the events which occurred, might have lead to the court to impose a more severe penalty for those offences on which the court could convict? (But this is conjecture, as I don’t know what evidence the court heard. But the questions should be asked anyway.)

    The analogy I have for this is, its a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. When the CPS decide not to charge certain offences, are they removing the opportunity for the court to see all the pieces of the jigsaw, and in effect the full picture of what the police/prosecution believe has happened? (The evidence which isn’t presented could be just as valuable to help the court understand what has happened, as the evidence which is presented.) In which case, is the court being denied the opportunity to make its own mind up as to what has happened as well as the full context in which all the events have taken place?

    If certain charges aren’t brought does this enable the defence to merely dismiss any evidence which the court may hear regarding those matters, and as such the court may not put as much weight on those events which it might otherwise?

    I also suspect that most CPS lawyers are not familiar with cases relating to raptor persecution or wildlife crimes. Very few offenders are ever charged, and as such very few cases ever reach court.
    Could this lead to a lack of familiarity lead to a shyness in prosecuting these type of offences? (it is very normal to be hesitant or reluctant when dealing with unfamiliar matters)

    Raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority. Is this something foremost in the minds of the CPS or courts, when dealing with these type of cases?

    Praise must be given to the RSPB investigations team and police for investigating this incident and bringing about a prosecution. (whilst the offender hasn’t been convicted of a raptor persecution offence, at least every stone has been overturned to bring about charges for other matters!)

    But the lack of persons being charged and convicted for raptor persecution offences is extremely concerning, especially when viewed in light of the recent RSPB report on raptor persecution.
    The crimes are certainly happening, so why is there such a failure to bring offenders to justice?

    1. “The crimes are certainly happening, so why is there such a failure to bring offenders to justice?”

      I wonder how many people involved in the CPS process are also involved with shooting?

    2. Which leads on to the question – Would additional training for individuals within the CPS be of benefit here? Would it be allowed and accepted from an interested outside source? Might the RSPB, or any other organisation, consider a crowdfund with the interntion of a rolling programme, county by county, as funds permit?

      1. I had exactly the same thought.
        The question as to whether the CPS should provide additional training in wildlife crime for certain lawyers, who would then take responsibility for prosecuting wildlife crimes, and who could work directly with the police wildlife officers or RSPB investigators to ensure that throughout the whole investigative procedure the best possible evidence was gathered, which would then help secure a conviction at court, is a good one.
        The current system is clearly not working, and reform is certainly needed.
        The question then is how to bring about such reform?
        I can’t see this being a matter the current government would be remotely interested in, and with all the other issues that have recently been of concern to the CPS, I don’t imagine improving how raptor crime is dealt with, will be a priority for them.
        An outside body such as the RSPB might consider offering such training, but since the whole issue of raptor persecution is so polarised, if the RSPB was to offer such training, would this be considered as introducing bias into how the CPS deals with raptor crimes, with claims of unfairness by certain sectors of the shooting industry?
        When I wrote to my MP regarding some aspects of the Environment Bill, I was assured that the government was proposing to set legally-binding targets on species abundance for 2030, with the aim of halting the decline of nature in England. One would hope that within the measures for reaching those targets, dealing effectively with wildlife criminals, and in particular those responsible for raptor persecution would be seen as necessary. (I can’t see how Hen Harriers numbers will ever increase unless those responsible for the illegal persecution are brought to justice and convicted at court).
        But I have very little faith in politicians delivering anything positive when it comes to environmental matters, unless it creates wealth and growth in the economy. Everything always comes back to money!!!

  11. The usual pathetic sentence as handed out by our prosecution service. Our laws need repealing on so many subjects, this being one of them. These criminals must be laughing out loud at what they can get away with.
    So much hard work by our various police forces becomes waste of time when prosecutions don’t go forward.
    I am sure that the majority of people in this country would agree our laws are far too lax and let the perpetrator get away with so much. Nature crimes of this kind being one of them. But I can’t ever see our politicians doing anything about it sometime soon, if ever.

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