RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper Matthew Stroud

Last month, Norfolk gamekeeper Matthew Stroud, 46, of Fengate in Weeting was convicted of multiple offences including:

  • Three counts of using poisoned bait on or before 19 August 2021 and 14 September 2021.
  • Six counts of killing a Common Buzzard (a non-Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting between 10 August and 14 September 2021.
  • One count of intentionally killing a Northern Goshawk (a Schedule 1 wild bird) at Weeting on or about 10 August 2021.
  • One count of possessing a regulated substance – Strychnine Hydrochloride – without a licence on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of possessing 4 shotguns to kill a Schedule 1 wild bird on 14 September 2021.
  • One count of releasing 3,400 Common Pheasants into the wild between 1 June and 14 September 2021 contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
  • One count of incorrectly storing a biocidal product – Rentokil Phostoxin – on 14 September 2021 contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

[Photo of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud and one of the six buzzards he shot and killed. Photo via Eastern Daily Press]

Even though Stroud’s crimes easily passed the threshold for a custodial sentence, he received a 12-month Community Order and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, fined £692 and ordered to pay costs of £145, compensation of £288.72 and a victim surcharge of £95. The court also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of all Stroud’s firearms, mobile phones and any chemicals (see here and here for previous blogs on this).

Stroud’s prosecution and conviction was the result of a well-run multi-agency investigation involving Norfolk Constabulary, Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Crown Prosecution Service and the RSPB Investigations Team.

Today, the RSPB has published a blog written by RSPB Investigations Officer Tom Grose, reflecting on the investigation and the subsequent sentence. You can read it here.

14 thoughts on “RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper Matthew Stroud”

  1. Dear Ruth As a long-time follower of your web, why are the names of the estate owners never published? Perhaps asked for their comments? Many thanks for all you do to publicise this horrendous persecution, Yours sincerely Mike Betts

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    1. Hi Mike

      It’s a fair question but it’s not a straightforward answer.

      First of all, the name of the estate owner (or name of the landowner, because these crimes don’t always take place on an ‘estate’) isn’t often provided by the authority/organisation/newspaper writing the press release. Sometimes they don’t even name the estate or landholding where the crime was committed! You’ll need to ask them about their reasons for that, but I suspect in many cases they’re fearful of litigation.

      From my perspective, it’s not always easy to determine who the landowner is. You’ll no doubt be aware of the lack of transparency in land ownership, so it would take time and resources that are beyond what I have available. But even if I could devote hours of research to this, in many cases it would still be very difficult for me to be absolutely certain that I’d identified the right individual(s) because so many hide behind off-shore trusts so I would be reluctant to publish because otherwise I’d run the risk of being sued for defamation. In other cases, the estate owner/landowner isn’t directly aware of what’s going on anyway because this responsibility has been transferred to an external sporting agency or to the owner of separate shooting rights on the land in question.

      Where estates have been named in official press releases from the authorities, you’ll often see in subsequent media coverage a flat denial of any knowledge of the crime(s) committed by their employee(s). They’d be pretty stupid to say anything different to be honest, especially in Scotland where the risk of vicarious liability is a distinct possibility. So from my perspective, asking the estate owner/landowner to comment would be a waste of my valuable time because I wouldn’t believe a word they said anyway. You’ve only got to look at the statements made by the representative bodies of the shooting organisations (when they bother to say anything at all) to know that all their talk of ‘zero tolerance’ is just a massive greenwashing exercise.

      I hope this explains my position.

  2. I salute all the people involved in obtaining the conviction.
    “Previous cases of this nature have been acknowledged to have crossed the custody threshold by the court .”
    “In 2022 a man was jailed for 16 weeks for killing two gulls. So why did Stroud receive far less?”
    These excerpts from the RSPB blog lead me to believe that if there is a loophole preventing conviction of wildlife crimes or correct sentencing in the shooting industry it will be taken, almost without exception. This blog and its supporters have got a huge task to improve matters. Still, we have to go on.

    1. The current law *exempts* wildlife crime from appeal (by the general public) over too lenient sentencing, if the case is heard in a Crown Court.

      See https://www.gov.uk/ask-crown-court-sentence-review

      I am uncertain of the situation if the case is heard in a Magistrate’s Court, but am seeking clarification.

      However, I have written to the Attorney General protesting the Crown Court situation, with a copy to my MP, using the email address contained in the Government URL above. One email is insufficient: we need a wider campaign to change the law.

      1. “I am uncertain of the situation if the case is heard in a Magistrate’s Court, but am seeking clarification… ”

        I have received this from a Barrister…

        On the question of the RSPB’s quote “Unfortunately, it seems that the lack of sentencing guidelines available to the courts is at the heart of the matter.”

        The Barrister said “The Sentencing Council produces definitive guidelines for many offences, but I suspect that there are practical limitations that mean that some less common offences will not have guidelines in place”

        So it appears to be the very rarity of prosecutions over wildlife crimes which (also!) works against us?

        and

        “I am aware that the Magistrates Court Sentencing Guidelines include offences of animal cruelty, however.” Interesting.

        But on the question of the general public being able to appeal unduly lenient sentences for wildlife crime in Magistrate’s Courts…

        The Barrister wrote: “You are correct that there is no method to review a potentially unduly lenient sentence imposed by Magistrates’ Courts.”

        Which means that the general public are not allowed to appeal an ‘unduly lenient’ sentence in a Magistrate’s Court, even if the general public believe that the Magistrate’s Court Sentencing Guidelines have been breached.

        Note, although the general public *can* appeal unduly lenient sentencing in the Crown Court, wildlife crimes are *excluded* from that provision.

        I think it is fair to say that this appears to show that the current criminal system in England and Wales is biased against prosecuting wildlife crime, compared to many/most other crimes.

        I think part of our job, now, to complain about this situation….

  3. Tom asks why Stroud didn’t receive a tougher sentence given that a man was jailed for killing two gulls. He goes on to blame the lack of sentencing guidelines.
    I thought that in these cases a magistrate could, and would, look at what had gone before in similar cases so he would have known about Orrey and Lambert even if the Johnston case was too recent for the magistrate to have knowledge of. So why didn’t the magistrate follow precedent as he was allowed to?
    As for Johnston, it appears that magistrates are prepared to be tougher on obvious thugs than on gamekeepers.

    I suggest that if the RSPB wants better sentencing guidelines, tougher sentencing and vicarious liability, a good place to start would be to publish Tom’s blog in their next magazine. Inform members and ask them to write to their MPs. We are way past the point of hiding the less tasteful aspects of nature conservation.
    RSPB, trust your members!

  4. Well one to all the organisation this case, excellent work. Shockingly betrayed by the magistrate. It’s long overdue that the RSPB bring the attention of raptor persecution to prominence with their members instead of an aside in an obscure location. After 20 years a member I gave up on them (except their overworked investigations department) years ago.

    1. The same goes for the RSPB burying their opposition to the mass release of game birds. These birds are an ecological disaster and the RSPBs membership should be made well aware of this major issue.

  5. Aye RSPB’s lovely animated advert of a blue tit leaving the idyllic “traditional countryside” and getting lost in “the evil modern industrial world” is a beauty for over-simplication & ignoring the various elephant(s) sitting in the room. As the blue tit flew over the wall on the edge of the ploughed field they missed their chance – they could have at least shown a couple of Investigations people tagging & bagging a poisoned buzzard or two.

  6. Would it be acceptable for the combined organisations presenting the case to object formally to to the sentence?

    Additionally, as a member, I hope the RSPB will consider an account with a mass email suggestion in their next magazine.

    1. “Would it be acceptable for the combined organisations presenting the case to object formally to to the sentence?”

      I do not believe that they can. See my reply about the law, above.

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