‘Gamekeeper pleads guilty after illegally killed raptors & poisons found on Dorset estate’ – RSPB press release

RSPB press release:

*Multiple illegally killed birds of prey, six of which were confirmed shot and one poisoned, were uncovered by Dorset Police and the RSPB on the Shaftesbury Estate near Wimborne St Giles

*The recently published RSPB Birdcrime report identified Dorset as the second worst county in the UK for confirmed bird of prey incidents in 2021

*The conservation charity is calling for greater regulation of larger scale pheasant shoots in order to help address the climate and nature crises and to reduce these appalling crimes against birds of prey

At Weymouth Magistrates’ Court today (4 January 2023), Paul Allen, 64, of Brockington Down, Wimborne St Giles, pleaded guilty to multiple charges of raptor persecution and related offences.

The Dorset gamekeeper will be sentenced on 16 February.

Dorset Police were first alerted in November 2020 when a member of the public found a dead red kite lying close to a dead rat on a private pheasant shoot on the Shaftesbury Estate, near Wimborne St Giles. Toxicology examinations confirmed the presence of the highly toxic pesticide bendiocarb in both species. Bendiocarb, which in some forms has now been banned, has been persistently abused for the illegal poisoning of birds of prey and other animals for years. It is believed the rat was laced with the poison and deliberately placed as a poisoned bait.

A multi-agency search of Allen’s home and surrounding land was undertaken in March 2021, led by Dorset Police and assisted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), Natural England and RSPB Investigations. Officers discovered six dead buzzards (which, following official post-mortem, were confirmed to have been shot) near the remains of a bonfire, including one that was suspected as having been shot within the preceding 24 hours. Tragically, this bird also contained shot from two previous shooting incidents, which it had survived.

Dorset Police, NWCU, Natural England & RSPB investigators at the scene where four of the nine buzzards were found. Photo: RSPB
Four of the six shot buzzards found by investigators. Photo: RSPB
Two more shot buzzards found during the search. The buzzard on the top was believed to have been shot less than 24 hours before being found. Photo: RSPB

An avian specialist at the Natural History Museum examined the remains of the fire, which was collected by investigators and confirmed the presence of at least three further buzzards.

CSI officer from Dorset Police examining the remains of three buzzards on a bonfire. Photo: RSPB

A banned product containing the pesticide bendiocarb was found in Allen’s vehicle and in an insecure outbuilding, along with two bottles of strychnine: another deadly poison banned in 2006. Two full tins of Cymag – a lethal fumigant pesticide banned since 2004 – were also found outside under an upturned pond liner.

Officers from Dorset Police & Natural England with two containers of Cymag. Photo: RSPB
Sachet of banned pesticide Ficam W (Bendiocarb) found in unlocked outbuilding. Photo: RSPB

All birds of prey are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and killing them is against the law, punishable by an unlimited fine and/or jail.

Thomas Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Finding so many illegally killed buzzards was truly shocking. This is yet another example of a gamekeeper being prosecuted in connection with raptor persecution offences on land managed for gamebird shooting.

In addition to all the agencies involved in this case, we would particularly like to thank Claire Dinsdale, formerly of Dorset Police, and currently with the NWCU, an exemplary officer who has devoted her career to tackling wildlife crime.

Nationally, the RSPB’s recently published Birdcrime report for 2021 found that over two-thirds of confirmed raptor persecution incidents were in relation to land managed for gamebird shooting and identified Dorset as the county with the second-highest number of confirmed raptor persecution incidents in the UK that year.

Mark Thomas, UK Head of Investigations at the RSPB, said: “Tragically, only days into the New Year, we already have yet another highly significant bird of prey persecution case before a court. This is a national problem which requires urgent Government attention and solutions, as identified in their own report published in December 2021.

In the time of a climate and nature emergency there can be no place for raptor persecution. We are therefore calling on Government to better enforce existing regulations relating to pheasant shoots, and to consider the introduction of new sanctions to act as a meaningful deterrent to such appalling crimes.”

The guilty pleas were –

· Two charges of possession of six dead common buzzards and remains of three more in March 2021

· Three charges of the keeping of banned pesticides (strychnine, bendiocarb and Cymag) in March 2021

· Two charges of failing to comply with conditions of shotgun and firearms certificates in March 2021

Charges relating to the killing of a red kite were dropped.

ENDS

The RSPB has also released a few minutes of video footage from the search – well worth viewing. You can find it on the ITV News website here

15 thoughts on “‘Gamekeeper pleads guilty after illegally killed raptors & poisons found on Dorset estate’ – RSPB press release”

  1. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx One was shot only 24 hours before the search/investigation.
    Is there an explanation as to why the shot bird(s) aren’t linked with the usage of Allen’s firearm? And why he hasn’t been charged/convicted of killing the bird(s)?

    1. “Is there an explanation as to why the shot bird(s) aren’t linked with the usage of Allen’s firearm?”

      How could you (forensically) link them? I presume bullets and rifles were not used, so there would be no rifling to go on. Lead shot is both homogeneous and ubiquitous.

      “And why he hasn’t been charged/convicted of killing the bird(s)?”

      Again, it is the level of proof required. The CPS only go that far for what they would consider far more serious crimes: illegal possession is a simple ‘slam dunk’, in comparison. There is also the possibility(?) that killing would carry no greater punishment than illegal possession.

      Also bear in mind that we, the public, are not allowed to object to any unduly lenient sentences when it comes to convictions for animal abuse and wildlife crimes. That *is* something we can change, if we persuade sufficient MPs that the law needs updating.

      1. Can you imagine somebody found with multiple human corpses on their premises, with the illegally held means of killing those corpses in their possession, with other corpses having been burnt on a bonfire at their property, nit being found guilty of murder? Why is it different when it is birds of prey?

        Was this put to a jury or is it another individual making a decision, because I do not trust either the CPS or the judiciary?

        1. “Why is it different when it is birds of prey?”

          Because they are not people. The two crimes do not carry anywhere near the same level of punishment, so the level of effort put in to gain a conviction are not equal.

          For example, in this case at least nine birds of prey were found shot, poisoned and/or burnt. Did it make national news headlines for weeks on end? Did it make national news headlines at all?

          Imagine, as you said, if it had been nine people? Or nine children? Shot, poisoned and/or burnt… ?

          As I implied, the CPS simply would not bother to attempt to persuade a jury (“to go that far”) as to who was responsible for the killings, when there was an easy ‘slam dunk’ alternative of illegal possession.

          What might a defence lawyer argue? It has to be ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ in the jurors’ minds.

          Whereas the CPS are prepared for very long trials in the case of human deaths, I doubt they would consider the same for wildlife. And I do not even know whether the illegal killing of a bird of prey automatically carries a stiffer sentence than illegal possession.

      2. Actually, CPS can only proceed where they believe there is a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest. The assessment of the evidence by CPS in this case matched my own based on the evidence available (I’m not a lawyer but have worked on hundreds of cases). These were all serious offences and the CPS deserve a lot of praise for their work on this, and a number of other recent cases. In my experience the majority of problems that do occur with some raptor persecution investigations relate to the police rather than CPS. There are some excellent WCOs out there, such as Claire Dinsdale in this case, but the overall standard of investigation is very variable and in the last few years several cases, which I believe should have clearly gone to court, have failed to even progress to the desk of the CPS due to a lack of police professionalism. Increasing NWCU involvement will hopefully address some of these issues.

        Regarding sentences, unfortunately there are no sentencing guidelines for these offences, so the court often have a difficult time assessing the relative seriousness of individual cases. Again good background input from CPS and supporting agencies is important. One thing which remains a mystery to me is that we have had several cases where, in a spontaneous moment of drunken stupidity, somebody has committed a cruel act and killed a single swan or a gull and has then received a jail sentence. Compare this to a situation where a person employed for many years as a professional pest controller, licensed to hold numerous firearms, keeping highly dangerous, often banned, pesticides then embarks on a predetermined course action to kill/trap multiple birds of prey and/or put out poisoned baits into the open countryside and no similar sentences are forthcoming. I don’t understand it.

        The key issue that still remains is that the main culprits for raptor persecution are those who orchestrate and allow these crimes to take place, namely the managers and employers running certain sporting estates. These people are currently almost unaccountable, and they know it. Gamekeepers are to some degree the fall guys in many cases. Bosses will typically back them, often spending a small fortune on legal fees, as long as they are kept out the picture. People won’t bite the hand that feeds them. Even if they are convicted – they routinely keep their jobs, have their fines paid and get their references for future jobs. It is difficult to see how the necessary improvements that are needed in the gamekeeping profession will actually happen.

        We need a climate where enough gamekeepers, and importantly the organisations that claim to represent them, will simply tell relevant managers/employers that they will not break the law because a) It’s wrong and b) the risks for them are too great. Suitable custodial sentences, not suspended, in appropriate cases needs to be part of the process of creating this deterrent climate. Other potential measures such as automatic revocation of firearms licences and the inability to continue in their profession for a certain period could also be considered. If a HGV driver is just over the alcohol limit – one year ban – job gone. A gamekeeper committing a trail of carnage usually leaves the court and goes back to work.

        Organised crime is taking place against our wildlife – why is this still going on after so many decades of full legal protection? That needs to change with improved enforcement, licensing, vicarious liability and range of other innovative measures. Remember, it is the government’s job to fix this – not the public, not bloggers and not NGOs, so it is high time they stepped up and put the necessary measures in place. At the start of 2020 a number of sporting organisations declared zero-tolerance for raptor persecution (link please Ed) – so perhaps the government should set about delivering that for them. I remaining waiting in hope!

        1. “One thing which remains a mystery to me is that we have had several cases where, in a spontaneous moment of drunken stupidity, somebody has committed a cruel act and killed a single swan or a gull and has then received a jail sentence. Compare this to a situation where a person employed for many years as a professional pest controller, licensed to hold numerous firearms, keeping highly dangerous, often banned, pesticides then embarks on a predetermined course action to kill/trap multiple birds of prey and/or put out poisoned baits into the open countryside and no similar sentences are forthcoming. I don’t understand it.”

          I think it is because of (institutional) bias. One the one hand – someone whose job does not involve killing, kills an animal in a public space. People can relate to the level of atrocity: “we can’t have that going on”.

          But on the other hand – there is someone steeped in legal killing, and illegally kills in the course of their ‘work’, away from public space. I think there exists a bias which finds that more ‘understandable’.

        2. “Organised crime is taking place against our wildlife – why is this still going on after so many decades of full legal protection?”

          I think because the Royal Family (and the rest of the landed aristocracy) are the cheer leaders for the shooting industry (they set an example for the country to follow), and that the shooting industry would find it very difficult to survive without the wholesale slaughter of predators.

          Shooting is part of the ‘Sport of Kings’, along with hunting… which is why their prey are called ‘game’: they are all euphemisms for jolly good bloody fun! Who remembers the ‘Killer Wales’?

  2. Did this guy also keep budgies or canaries I wonder? Only reason I ask, the sachet of Ficam and the yellow plastic bottle is sitting atop a bird carrying box. If he’s not an aviary bird enthusiast (fair enough, he may be) then someone with a suspicious mind may query the use a busy keeper (evidently overburdened with work and plagued with vermin) has for said carrying box…

    1. Just watched the video…some canaries at the end. Bright yellow – eyecatching, noisy singers no doubt. Hope someone had a look around for the larsen traps, etc.

    2. I think the carrying box is actually a cage bird show cage. Like you I got me wondering what use a game keeper might put that to?

      1. In other parts of the country it is the case that domestic birds like canaries, budgies, parakeets (anything bright and noisy) as well as the usual wild birds – pigeons, thrushes and blackbirds, jays, etc are used as live decoys in the decoy compartment of a “legal” Larsen traps to catch hawks. I had thought that most keepers had given up on this (using domestic birds) as it is too incriminating if found. At least you have a bit of a defence with jackdaws or jays. But who knows about this guy – he may be a genuine canary enthusiast? I’m sure the RSPB guys will have noticed the canary’s , just hope they were given opportunity to search the estate with the police.

  3. This investigation and prosecution supports the case that licensing must include all forms of game bird shooting and not just grouse shooting.
    The fact that pheasants and red legged partridges are not even native species, but are bred in captivity and then released on mass solely for the purpose of shooting adds even more weight why this type of shooting should be properly regulated. Especially when one considers the governments apparent commitment to improve the natural environment and nature by 2030.
    It is just a suggestion, but it might be a useful exercise for readers of this blog, to write to their MP’s and highlight this case, along with all the other evidence Ruth has published about raptor persecution, including the plight of the Hen Harrier, and the other recently covered case where a game keeper trapped buzzards in a crow trap and then killed them. Readers could ask their MP’s to ask the Minister for the Environment when this government will actually take raptor persecution, which is supposed to be a national crime wildlife priority, seriously.
    Whilst it is doubtful there will be any meaningful progress under this current Tory government, there is the possibility that at the next general election there will be a change of political parties. In which case, it might be worthwhile sowing the seeds of change so that a Labour government has it in their mind to introduce new legislation which would regulate the game shooting industry. (by then why might have some idea of what this could look like, if the Scottish government have introduced licensing in Scotland)

    As an aside- I wonder if Dorset police have revoked Mr Allen’s’ shotgun licence?
    And if he was a member of the NGO, have they cancelled his membership?
    It would be nice if this organisation and the other umbrella shooting organisations who publicly state their opposition to raptor persecution covered this story for their members, and out rightly condemned what has taken place. What Mr Allen has done, does lawful game shooting no favours, and it would good to see organisations such as the BASC, NGO, GWCT etc standing alongside the RSPB to publicly condemn the crimes which have taken place.

  4. Let us hope that the judiciary really set an example over this case. NO MORE WRIST SLAPS. No pity over job loss! Imprisonment, hefty fines, firearms cert. revoked and not renewable, all should apply.
    Make an example and get the rest of the criminals worried, unless their arrogance tells them they will never be caught. The noose is tightening.

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