Millden Estate (Angus Glens) gamekeeper convicted for animal cruelty in relation to badger baiting

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.

Previous blogs on this case can be read hereherehereherehereherehere, here

21 thoughts on “Millden Estate (Angus Glens) gamekeeper convicted for animal cruelty in relation to badger baiting”

  1. I’m so glad to hear this as I lived adjacent to Millden Estate in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s during which time a police operation was mounted relating to the very type offences that Rhys Davies was pled guilty to today i.e. bvadger presecution. Although severely injured dogs were found the investigation did not lead to a court appearance by any individual.
    Around the same time I found an illegally set trap which, due to it’s type and where it was situated, I assumed that it had been set to trap raptors. I took a photograph of the trap and went through due process by reporting it to the police. The photograph we took was taken alongside that days edition of a newspaper with a view to establishing that it was not of historical orgin.
    Shortly afterwards I received a letter from Tayside Police informing me that Millden Estate had received a warning that if it happened again further action would be taken. Alan Stewart was the wildlife policeman in Glenesk at that point in time.
    Ten daus later I once again came across the same type of trap in a similar situation and contacted Tayside Police once again. They made no contact with me and I never heard from them again in relation to my complaint.
    A short time later my wife spoke to the wildlife police officer and had a conversation with him. The conversation was about the illegal traps in question and the officer, unaware that is was my wife he was talking to, replied that she was not to worry as they knew who was causing all the bother, which my wife took to mean that they knew who was reporting these crimes.
    Shortly after that we began to receive harrassment by way of lamps being shone in our bedroom window and nasty letters being printed in the local paper, mentioning both myself and my wife. We complained to the Organisation he was Representing, as stated in his letter and we which we received a written apology from him as what he had said was false, and provably so..
    During our residence there we had also watched while the gamkeepers burned the heather during strong winds contrary to guidelines and showing complete disregard for the inherent dangers of their actions. This culminated in a whole hillside being set alight on more than one occassion. Exasperated I contacted Tayside Fire Department and informed them as to exactly why these fires we happening and thus explaining their frequency. I received a visit from their representatives and received a letter along similar lines to the one I received from Tayside Police — that the Estate had been given a warning.
    Once more I witnssed similar practises continuing and was approached by a long term resident of the glenb and told that the whole economy of the glen rested on Grouse Shooting and not to cause waves.
    More harassment continued.
    We left the glen in 2004.

    1. This estate was used by wildlife police officers for many years for ‘education’ and an example of good practice.

      Provided lunch and when police left got back to business as usual….xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

      This estate is not unique it is an industry issue.

      Well done to SSPCA who didn’t just have to deal with investigating a highly protected and wealthy estate but also the lack of support by and attempted blocking by police.

  2. Great work everyone…let’s hope he gets the punishment he deserves!

    As for the Millden Estate (this guys employers)…they seem to have a pretty murky past as well! Time for them to clean their act up too by the sounds!!

  3. I concur with the points made by George M . I monitor all the Angus Glens and Glen Esk is one with a heap load of dodgy keepers . I feel I am being monitored when I visit . The keepers are so suspicious of all visitors whether birders , ramblers etc and regularly take note of car regs. and quizz you when you are on the hills . It can be quite intimidating . I call it Glen of the Duelling Banjos ( if you get my drift ) . I am glad of the conviction and was concerned that the dead raptors might not feature as an issue but lets hope that will result in another court case . It will be interesting to see if Angus Glens Moorland Group will comment on this case on their FB page regarding this slap in the face to their propaganda of how squeaky clean keepers are .

  4. I have a feeling a lot of these ‘game keepers’ do exactly the same kinds of activities with their employers fully aware and consenting to them. It’s clear that Zoosadism is a vital part of the psychological makeup of a ‘gamekeeper and the owners of these estates.

  5. Sorry, is this the same case that all the apologists for the hunting fraternity said the injuries to the dogs were common place when carrying out legal predator control!!!!? And that the authorities were absolutely not necessary. We all know who the ‘animal’, is in this case.
    Millden notorious wildlife unfriendly part of Scotland.
    P.s. missing a ‘d’ in the title Millden.

  6. I know very little about this Estate, but my personal experience of other large Estates is that the other keepers would know exactly what was happening. Reason being keepers especially young ones are always very interested in one anothers dogs – both gundogs and terriers. It is a constant theme of that life – training them & working them, breeding them, buying & selling them, etc and pretty much all keepers I have ever known on big estates are always poking into one anothers business. Even at a glance, any serious injury such as flesh / tissue missing on underside of the lower jaw is 90% likely injury from a badger. I can just about accept some Agents might conceivably rarely visit a beat /underkeepers house & kennels / or just be too dim to notice the injuries – but in my personal opinion no way does this excuse hold for the rest of an Estate’s keepers and even their circle of pals among neighbouring Estates. And if the Headkeeper does plead ignorance he is effectively stating aloud that he hasn’t been doing his job.

  7. I was trail running in that area a couple years back, headed down a gully and noticed a pair of small birds of prey above, heading back n fore to what may have been a nest in crags above. 20 minutes later as I climbed up a nearby hill, I heard shots ringing out back down below, 4×4 and gamekeeper standing beside the gully. No sign now of any birds.

    I’ve also noted a large non-native owl kept in a cage behind a gamekeeper cottage there, I’ve heard this may be used as a ‘tethered lure’ to tempt other birds of prey down to ‘mob it’ which are then presumably shot.

    The whole area reeks of oddness, it’s a backwater of craven barbarism, if you pass a local they are suspicious and unfriendly, god knows what else goes on there.

    1. Mike. I too have seen falconry birds by a local, to me, gamekeepers’s house.; three perched on low bars in the garden. Also small flock of doves flying around two local gamekeeper’s premises. I’ve always assumed the doves and birds of prey are used as lures.

      1. Yeah I’ve been fascinated by the number of retired gamekeepers who keep pigeons/doves. This usually comes up because they like to mention supposed attacks by BoPs on their ‘livestock’. On one occasion the ex keeper mentioned ‘the problem was now solved.’

  8. “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.”

    “procrastination” is arguably a sugar coated description of the activities (or lack of them) attributable to those in government who bear a grave responsibility for the current state of affairs. The endless flood of criminal activity is more accurately described as being the result of deliberate intention to prevent the establishment of efficient measures to combat wildlife crime.

  9. I notice in the report, the keeper resigned from his post rather than being sacked by the estate.
    I wonder if he has since found employment elsewhere as a keeper on another estate?

    Bearing in mind Mr Davies had reportedly undergone 3 years training at college as a keeper, and then spent 4 years employed in this role, I would be very doubtful if his court case and criminal conviction will have changed his attitudes towards animals and wildlife.
    In fact it could be argued that the court case and insight into the investigation may have given him an increased knowledge of how to avoid prosecution in the future should he go on to commit similar further offences.

    If he hasn’t been barred from employment as a game keeper by either the Scottish Game Keepers Association or any of the other shooting organisations such as the Scottish Land and Estates then what does that tell us about the shooting industry, and the claims that the industry does not tolerate illegal practices such as raptor persecution?

    I hope those in the Scottish government, who are involved in the proposed licensing scheme, consider this point carefully, and make it a condition of the proposed licencing scheme that shooting estates can not employ someone convicted of wildlife or animal cruelty offences.
    This could have a number of benefits.
    Firstly in that it would discourage game keepers from operating outside the law, as to do so could result in termination of their employment.
    It could also provide a benefit to keepers and the SGA, with some form of protection and leverage should estates or shooting management companies demand unrealistic game bird numbers which couldn’t possibly be achieved by lawful means.

    It should not be forgotten that much wildlife and many bird of prey species are endangered, and it would seem logical to ensure that every opportunity is taken to increase the legal protection they are afforded by preventing those who pose them a risk from being in a position where they can do so much harm.

  10. Surely…this offence will mean that he will never be considered fit to hold any form of firearms licence?

    So, photographic evidence. But covertly viewed images….not covertly taken?

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