The long-running criminal case against a gamekeeper from Millden Estate in the Angus Glens was partially completed yesterday.
Rhys Davies, 28, pleaded guilty at Forfar Sheriff Court to a number of offences relating to the keeping and training of dogs for animal fighting (badger baiting) and a failure to seek veterinary attention for dogs that had sustained serious injuries from those fights. He also admitted a number of firearms and shotgun offences relating to unsecured guns and ammunition.
[Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper, Rhys Davies, at court yesterday. Photo by Ross Gardiner from The Courier]
This has been a long-running investigation that began back in May 2019. Unbelievably, Davies had submitted some photos to a printing company to be developed. Those photographs contained images of horrifically injured, disfigured and dead animals, along with a number of clearly identifiable individuals posing with spades at what looked to be fox dens and badger setts. Davies used his address at Millden Estate for the photo order to be returned.
Fortunately, the print developer recognised the serious nature of the images and reported the order to the Scottish SPCA.
In October 2019, the Scottish SPCA led a multi-agency raid on Millden Estate, and at another property in Aberdeenshire, where multiple pieces of evidence were uncovered during searches of gamekeepers’ houses and the wider estate.
Amongst other things, eleven dogs were seized from kennels at Davies’ cottage and from an outbuilding. Some dogs showed evidence of injuries, some fresh and others sustained previously. These injuries included a torn-off lower lip, extensive scarring and the lower face of one dog was missing. A collar tested positive for badger DNA.
Davies’ phone was seized and more images were found of harrowing animal injuries, GPS locations of where he’d been, and conversations with others in the gang discussing the fights, injuries sustained and comments about DIY veterinary attention.
One of these gang members, 32-year-old Liam Taylor of Deyhill, MacDuff, Aberdeenshire, was convicted last year for his role in this savagery (here).
Davies initially pleaded not guilty and his case was due to be heard in November 2020 but was adjourned, time after time (see here) until yesterday when he finally decided to plead guilty.
Davies’ defence agent, a QC, no less (I wonder who paid for that!) tried to plead for mitigation but the Crown Office Fiscal, Karon Rollo, made clear that Davies was a fully-trained gamekeeper (three-years college training) and had been employed as a gamekeeper for four years so knew exactly what he was doing. Sheriff Derek Reekie agreed and asked for social reports on Davies before sentencing in June 2022.
There’s a full court report by Ross Gardiner in The Courier here.
This case isn’t over yet. During the raid on Millden Estate in October 2019, a number of dead raptors were found stuffed in sacks at various locations. Police Scotland are dealing with this aspect of the case and I understand a separate court hearing will take place in relation to those birds.
Following yesterday’s conviction, I read a statement from an unnamed spokesperson at Millden Estate:
“The estate does not condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife.
We were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light.
The employee involved was suspended by the estate with immediate effect and resigned a few days later when the police investigation was still at an early stage.
At no stage was the estate itself the focus of the investigation“.
I don’t think that last sentence is true at all; it looks like a damage limitation exercise to me. Millden Estate was very much at the centre of this investigation, with the search extending from gamekeepers’ houses, to outbuildings, gardens and the wider ground including the land used for grouse, pheasant and partridge shooting.
I’d also argue that Millden Estate has a lot of questions to answer, not least how underkeeper Davies was able to keep 11 dogs, many of them seriously injured, without his Head Keeper, other under keepers, the sporting agent, or anyone else noticing.
Millden Estate has been at the centre of a number high profile wildlife crime investigations over the years, including the discovery of a poisoned golden eagle (here) and the discovery of a fatally-injured golden eagle whose legs had been virtually severed in what was believed to have been a spring trap. The eagle was found several days later dumped in a layby away from the estate, having travelled overnight according to its satellite tag data (here).
I’ll come back to the history of Millden Estate, and a number of other relevant issues relating to this case, over the coming days.
Meanwhile, we all owe the Scottish SPCA a huge debt of gratitude for uncovering the grotesque crimes of gamekeeper Rhys Davies and his depraved mates. This was an intricate, detailed investigation and without it this gamekeeper would likely still be employed by Millden Estate, inflicting vicious, unspeakable brutality on wildlife and dogs.
I look forward to the Scottish Government pulling their finger out and finally (after 11 years of procrastination) granting extended powers to the Scottish SPCA to allow them to investigate more wildlife crime.