Gamekeeper John Orrey, convicted of beating to death two buzzards, avoids jail

Press release from RSPB, 28th January 2022

Keeper caught on camera killing buzzards

A gamekeeper has been sentenced to a total of 20 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and fined £1000 after pleading guilty to killing two buzzards on land managed for pheasant shooting after an investigation by Nottinghamshire Police and the RSPB.

Shocking footage was played in court, showing John Orrey, 63, of Hall Farm, Kneeton, brutally killing two healthy buzzards inside a cage trap, into which they had been lured.

The court heard how, early in January 2021, members of the public reported a live buzzard caught in a cage trap in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire. Following up the report, an RSPB Investigations Officer located the trap on a pheasant shoot. There was a live buzzard inside – later confirmed to be a different bird than the one first reported – along with the carcasses of a pheasant and two stock doves, used as bait to attract the buzzard.

Cage traps can be used legally under license for certain reasons to catch corvids such as crows and magpies. However the law states that traps must be checked at least every 25 hours, and anything caught accidentally must be released unharmed.

The buzzard was released due to concerns for its welfare and the RSPB Officer installed a remote camera.

A review of the footage revealed that the trap had been visited on several occasions by a man – later identified as John Orrey – driving a green 4×4. Two buzzards entered the trap on separate, consecutive days, no doubt attracted to the carrion in the harsh weather. On both occasions Orrey entered the trap and bludgeoned the buzzards to death with the long handle of a slash hook.

[Ed: A five-minute video of these offences has been produced by the RSPB’s Investigations Team. WARNING – it contains distressing footage]

Nottinghamshire Police were notified and swiftly identified the suspect as John Orrey, a gamekeeper on a pheasant shoot on the land in question. A warrant was obtained to search his premises. In a barn near his home was the same green 4×4 with a long-handled slash hook in the boot. The bodies of the buzzards had likely been disposed of. A forensic examination of the two stock doves confirmed they had been illegally shot.

Buzzards and stock doves are legally protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Orrey pleaded guilty to all charges in December 2021 and was sentenced today (28 January) at Nottinghamshire Magistrates’ Court. In relation to the killing of the buzzards, for each bird he received an 18-week suspended sentence to run concurrently and a £500 fine for each bird. He was also ordered to pay £650 costs and £50 victim surcharge, and £180 compensation to the Wild Justice Raptor Forensics Fund.

District Judge Grace Leong remarked: “This was a shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence.”

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “When I first saw the footage I was shocked and sickened. The birds were subject to a repeated torrent of blows before being thrown into the boot of a vehicle. This was clearly a premeditated operation and yet again illustrates that the shooting industry has a serious problem that needs to be sorted. Killing birds of prey has been illegal for decades, and yet it is still commonplace. Why? Clearly the punishments are no deterrent and the courts must look at using the full range of sentences available – including jail – to signal clearly that this sort of behaviour is simply not acceptable.

“Better regulation is needed too. The RSPB has repeatedly asked for the conditions on cage traps to be tightened. The UK Government must follow the recommendations of the recent

UN assessment, which calls for stronger regulation of the shooting industry and to allow for the removal of licences to use these traps.”

Chief Inspector Heather Sutton, Nottinghamshire Police’s lead for rural crime, said: “This sentencing is extremely significant and I hope it demonstrates just how seriously Nottinghamshire Police takes reports of rural crime and how we will work together with our partners to bring anyone committing these horrific offences to justice. It is unacceptable that any wildlife should experience the kind of ordeal John Orrey subjected them to.”

Orrey pleaded guilty to 5 x WCA and 4 x firearms charges:

• Possession of two dead stock doves.

• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 8/1/21

• Intentionally killing a common buzzard on 9/1/21

• Using a cage trap to kill or take a wild bird

• Possession of an article (slash hook) capable of being used to commit an offence

• Failure to comply with condition of shotgun certificate (weapon not securely stored)

• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (ammunition not securely stored)

• Failure to comply with condition of firearms certificate (weapons and ammunition not securely stored)

• Possessing ammunition for a firearm without a certificate

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, phone the police on 101, email RSPB Investigations at crime@rspb.org.uk or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx

ENDS

I understand a blog from the RSPB is imminent, providing more detail and commentary than this press release.

I’ll post both as soon as they become available.

UPDATE 15.20hrs: An article in the Newark Advertiser provides more detail about the case and states that Orrey’s shotgun licence has been revoked (see here).

UPDATE 15.50hrs: The blog by the RSPB’s Investigations Team can be read here

UPDATE 18.50hrs: Photo of buzzard-killer John Orrey from BBC News:

UPDATE 19.10hrs: Wild Justice Raptor Forensic Fund helps secure conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

UPDATE 21.00hrs: “A shocking and unnecessary act of cruelty and violence” says Judge sentencing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

UPDATE 23.00hrs: Coverage on Channel 4 News here

UPDATE 29th January 2022: How has the game-shooting industry reacted to the conviction of gamekeeper John Orrey? (here)

UPDATE 24th August 2022: BBC programme ‘Caught Red Handed’ features conviction of buzzard-killing gamekeeper John Orrey (here)

25 thoughts on “Gamekeeper John Orrey, convicted of beating to death two buzzards, avoids jail”

  1. How utterly pathetic……..a country can and should be judged by the way it treats its animals and a so-called sentence like this proves that there is NO proper protection for British wildlife.

    1. A suspended sentence is actually quite severe and if his shotgun licence has been revoked, how much use is he to his employers?

      I didn’t think he’d get that much.

  2. I’ve got a question and a comment. Why was this video evidence allowed when in so many other cases it hasn’t? The Chief Inspector said: “This sentencing is extremely significant”. No, it isn’t. That fact that someone has actually been sentenced is “significant” because it happens so rarely, but the sentence itself is paltry and meaningless. Why do functionaries trot out this rubbish?

  3. A good result in that this unpleasant wildlife killer admitted his guilt but a suspended sentence will hardly have the impact required in the wider shooting world and they will doubtless carry on regardless. This is probably a relatively common place event there are hundreds if not thousands of these traps on game shoots and grouse moors throughout the UK and with carrion bait buzzards are relatively easily attracted as are no doubt other protected predators. How many of these traps catch raptors that are subsequently released, I suspect, and I’m sure I’m not alone, in thinking lots are caught few are released as the law requires.
    The regulations on such traps are woefully inadequate, they need to be tagged to estate, operator and location with the possibility of routine inspection. as T the sentence jail time and a bigger fine, he and all other keepers know exactly what they are doing and what the law is, never mind vicarious liability in England.
    Me I’d have suspended him for a week by the thumbs with a sign saying kick me!
    I catch Buzzards to ring and they are fantastic birds and none ever deserved the fate this criminal oaf meted out without thought or care.

  4. Hang on the guy is 63, what’s the betting he get is nice grace and favour retirement package from the land owners, including accommodation

    1. Hi Mike, some of the big old ‘family type’ estates might well do that out of a sense of mutual loyalty. But I reckon a lot of owners and especially the ‘sporting agents’ these days might consider it a useful pretext for getting shot of a dozy and evidently incompetent old bugger that was sloppy enough to get caught. That’s a bad age for a keeper to slip up, at 20-something it wouldn’t matter one bit – would perhaps even be a bit of a brag, he would just move to a new area. But at 62, likely settled in that area he won’t want to move, but the Estate won’t like being closely scrutinised from now on if he stays.

    2. I wouldn’t comment on such things unless you know the facts, of which most your reading are completely false and the media have missed out or changed what they feel the need to

  5. And in the offices of one or two well known shooting organisations a familiar conversation will be had…
    PR secretary – “What line should we put out on this one, Boss?”

    The Boss – “Damn – this is another middle-stumper this one…we will just have to wheel out the ‘bad apple’ routine. Yes, I know it’s pretty shit and it is laughed at by everyone except our supporters…but what else can we do – admit we’ve been bullshitting everybody all these years? Clean up the industry and thus shrink it to a third of it’s current size? Lose all our cosy jobs and all our perks?”

  6. I’ve just looked at the video footage and what strikes me as significant (apart from the pointless deaths of two Buzzards and Stock Doves) is the complete lack of emotion that Orrey displays. He, and all the others like him, are repulsive and beneath contempt. This is why we need RPUK, Wild Justice, the RSPB and the League Against Cruel Sports etc. Well done the RSPB and the Police. Will we get a comment from the shooting organisations? Probably not and if we do it will of course be, ‘just one bad apple’. Strange how one bad apple seems to be everywhere!

    1. This is probably because it was xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxx. A very professional performance by the RSPB and the Police.

  7. Incandescent watching the video associated with this case on local BBC news! How can someone filmed beating a buzzard to death avoid a jail sentence? How bad does it have to be to get a response that properly reflects the crime?

  8. I hate to say “I told you so” but I did!!
    Why didn’t District Judge Grace Leong follow up her words with a proper sentence: jail, a huge fine and a lifetime ban from working with, or owning, animals.
    As ever, the judiciary fails to appropriately punish a wildlife criminal. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx

  9. Very very low fine, thats nothing. Anything else I write would probably be deleted. keep up the good work.
    One day this might all be in the past.

    1. So called Guardians of their countryside Not ours. The shooting and hunting fraternities are still living in or hankering for Edwardian/Victorian England and we must keep disabusing them of this criminal notion.

  10. He is guilty of numerous offences, including firearms. Two 18 week suspended sentences to run concurrently, surely that just means one 18 week suspended sentence. All those offences but no prison sentence, it beggars belief. His solicitor says he regrets his actions. What a complete load of ******** He will xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx. It’s just so sickening. And this has only come to light because of hidden cameras – this is just the tip of the iceberg as we all know.

  11. Reality is that the law needs changing on the use of traps. What’s happened has happened and the issue started with being allowed to use the traps in the first place. End of argument.
    Questions also need to be asked of the way the media and RSPB have reported this case. Regardless of the crime, facts should not be exaggerated and made to fit a story that sensationalises the event. The effort should actually go into lobbying the government for changes in the law and educating those who are tasked with making a living in an emotive and challenging sector.

  12. “Section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968 prohibits a person from possession of any type of firearm if you have been given a custodial sentence when convicted of a criminal offence.

    If you have received a custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence) of between 3 months and 3 years then you are prohibited for a period of 5 years from the date you are released.
    If you have received a custodial sentence of 3 years or more then you are prohibited for life, from the date of release.
    The prohibition may be lifted on application to the Crown Court.”

    “All previous convictions must be declared on the application form. It is an offence under Section 28A(7) of the Firearms Acts 1968-1997 to make a false declaration when answering this question. You are not permitted to withhold previous convictions by virtue of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1975 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (see notes in Part A on the application form).

    Not all convictions are relevant but your age when they were committed and the length of time without re-offending are factors which are considered in addition to the seriousness of the offence.”

    And then I found this:

    “A Freedom of Information request by the BBC to the Isle of Man Constabulary revealed that nearly 40% of all registered gun and crossbow owners on the Isle of Man has a criminal record.

    As of 31 March 2019, 2,003 people held certificates for firearms and regulated weapons with 789 of these (39%) having at least one conviction.

    Although the above information doesn’t relate specifically to England and Wales, it’s interesting to see that it is possible to get a licence (with a criminal record).”

    There is an inadequate article in The Guardian which states: “The UK has some of the toughest restrictions on firearms ownership in the world.” Really? See: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/aug/13/what-are-rules-firearms-licences-uk

  13. That’s disturbing and disgusting; I saw two buzzards the other day up close in a field, it was the most magnificent and uplifting thing I’ve seen in a while. To brutally murder them is utterly debased

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