Gamekeeper John Orrey’s conviction was secured in December 2021 when he pleaded guilty to five wildlife crime offences and four firearms offences. Sentencing was deferred until yesterday when he was handed a suspended custodial sentence and a small fine (see here) – nowhere near as severe as he deserved for deliberately baiting a trap to attract buzzards and then casually but brutally beating those buzzards to death with a stick as if it was part of his daily routine.
[Screengrab from the RSPB’s covert footage of criminal gamekeeper John Orrey killing buzzards at Hall Farm, Kneeton, Nottinghamshire]
At the time of his guilty plea I checked around the websites of the five game-shooting organisations that claim to have a ‘zero tolerance’ for raptor persecution to read their statements of condemnation and see what efforts they’d made to distance themselves from this criminal gamekeeper, e.g. expelled him from membership (if he is a member) or blacklisted him to prevent future membership, blacklisted the pheasant shoot at Hall Farm in Kneeton, Nottinghamshire where Orrey is employed etc.
I found absolutely nothing about his conviction on any of the shooting org websites.
Perhaps they were waiting for sentencing before they took action?
Well let’s see. At the time of writing this blog, 24 hours after Orrey was sentenced, and with the story being covered widely online and in local, regional and national press, of the five shooting organisations claiming zero tolerance of raptor persecution, the National Gamekeepers Organisation has remained silent, the Countryside Alliance has remained silent, the Moorland Association has remained silent, and the CLA has remained silent. So has the GWCT. How telling is that?
The only shooting organisation to have published a statement is BASC, although it’s so weak and heavily disguised it really needn’t have bothered.
Here it is:
Note there is no mention of gamekeeper John Orrey or that he’s just been convicted of committing 5 wildlife crimes and 4 firearms offences on a pheasant shoot in Nottinghamshire. There are just generic statements suggesting, as BASC always does, that it’s a ‘tiny minority’ responsible for the wide ranging criminality found within the game-shooting industry, even though the most recent report shows the number of raptor persecution crimes is at a 30-year high.
Any casual visitor to the BASC website will struggle to know what the article is even about, and I’d argue that that is exactly what the BASC press team intended when it decided on what the headline and text would be. ‘Yeah, let’s make it look as though we’re condemning this gamekeeper’s actions without actually referring to him or his case or providing any details, because that would be too embarrassing/damaging for our industry‘.
BASC has added a link at the foot of its statement but this is a link to an article in the Newark Advertiser! No disrespect to the Newark Advertiser, but why on earth didn’t BASC include a link to the RSPB blog and the RSPB video? BASC even mentions in its statement its so-called partnership work with the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), a group on which the RSPB is also present, so why not share the work of an RPPDG partner that’s been at the centre of this criminal investigation, if BASC is genuinely interested in dealing with raptor persecution?
I’ll tell you why. Because the publicity about gamekeeper John Orrey’s criminality is highly damaging to the game-shooting industry’s reputation. BASC even admits this in its own press statement. BASC needs to be seen to be condemning the criminality because otherwise it looks to be supportive of the crime at best, complicit at worst, but it will go out of its way to avoid providing the abhorrent details that a casual visitor to its website will rightly associate with the game-shooting industry.
Orrey is the 4th gamekeeper to be convicted of wildlife crimes/raptor persecution since November 2021. The three others were gamekeeper Shane Leech (33) in Suffolk (here), gamekeeper Peter Givens (53) in the Scottish Borders (here) and gamekeeper Hilton Prest (58) in Cheshire (here). I didn’t see any publicity/condemnation from any of the shooting organisations in relation to these other convictions.
So why has BASC responded to Orrey’s conviction and not the others? Simply pressure to be seen to be doing the right thing, because Orrey’s case has been high profile and drawn plenty of media attention due to the brutality of his crimes that were laid bare in the RSPB video. That footage is shocking and has caused revulsion amongst the general public. How else do you explain BASC’s silence (and all the other shooting organisations’ silence) about these three other convictions?
I’ve asked whether Orrey was/is a member of these organisations and if so, whether he’s been expelled. I haven’t received any responses.
And what now of John Orrey?
We know that his firearms were removed from him by Nottinghamshire Police back in January 2021 when his house was raided but there is no indication that he lost his job at that time. Indeed, in court his defence solicitor highlighted the fact that Orrey had managed to go a whole year without killing any more buzzards (see here).
Orrey was (is still?) employed by Hill Farm in Kneeton, Ruchcliffe, Nottinghamshire. This is a working farm with an ancillary pheasant shoot. It’s been reported that Orrey’s role is a mixture of farm labourer and gamekeeper. His firearms certificates have now been revoked for an indeterminate period (it’ll be up to the Chief Constable to decide whether Orrey is fit to have them returned) and as a result of his fine and suspended sentence, it seems he will not be allowed to use the General Licences for two years until his conviction is considered ‘spent’ and he is considered to have been ‘rehabilitated’ (in the eyes of the law, at least).
This should restrict Orrey’s gamekeeping activities considerably assuming he’ll abide by the law (and if he doesn’t he’ll find himself in jail because the suspension on his custodial sentence will no longer apply). If anyone happens to be walking in the Kneeton area and particularly in the vicinity of Hall Farm (there are public footpaths) it will be worth keeping a look out to see whether any traps are being deployed to catch and kill so-called ‘pest’ birds such as crows, magpies, rooks, jays, woodpigeons etc. If you find anything that looks suspicious please report it to Nottinghamshire Police immediately.