Dorset landowner cleared of assaulting gamekeeper & beater after argument over low number of gamebirds available to be shot

There’s been widespread media coverage of a court case at Weymouth Magistrates this week, which mostly focused on a ‘frustrated’ landowner, William Elder, throwing a dead partridge at his gamekeeper, Daniel Burden, and the gamekeeper throwing it back at his boss, after an argument about whether paying guests had been given the best opportunity to shoot as many pheasants and partridges as they’d paid to kill on a shoot day at Stancombe Farm in Askerswell, Dorset.

This article from The Telegraph provides a pretty good overview of the case. [Update – the article has been reproduced in full at the end of this blog]

Despite the sensationalist media headlines, the partridge-throwing incident wasn’t really the focus of the case. The landowner had been charged with two counts of assault – one for allegedly kicking and chest-bumping his gamekeeper, and one for allegedly kicking a teenage beater up the backside.

Magistrates cleared Mr Elder of both assault charges (the magistrates’ reasoning is included in the Telegraph article – worth a read!).

We often hear about the tensions between shoot owners and their gamekeepers, and the sometimes unspoken pressure that shoot/landowners place on their employees to produce sufficient quantities of gamebirds, whether that be pheasants, partridges or grouse, to satisfy the expectations of paying shooting guests. This is often provided as an explanation for why some gamekeepers illegally kill birds of prey. And although this particular case doesn’t involve allegations of raptor persecution, it does provide clear evidence of those tensions, only this time they were spoken and came straight from the shoot owner’s mouth.

UPDATE: The Telegraph article in full:

A landowner threw a dead partridge at his gamekeeper in a falling out over the lacklustre spoils of a £15,000 game shoot, a court has been told.

Farmer William Elder took issue with the direction his team of beaters were driving pheasants and partridge at his Dorset farm.

With guns paying almost £2,000 each for the day’s shooting, he was concerned some of them hadn’t bagged enough birds – and would ask for their money back.

He was charged with assault after an argument with his gamekeeper and a teenage beater over the issue.

Mr Elder, who was standing with the guns, berated gamekeeper Daniel Burden and the beaters over the radio, causing some of them to walk off in protest.

Later, the 60-year-old farmer and Mr Burden came together at the farm with both men accusing each other of acting aggressively.

Mr Elder claimed his gamekeeper threatened to “belt” him and the shoot captain, Steve Smith, had to come between the pair.

A court heard Mr Elder then threw a partridge he was holding at Mr Burden, hitting him on the leg.

In retaliation, the gamekeeper picked up the dead bird and threw it back at his boss.

Mr Burden, who is in his 40s, further claimed the farmer “chest bumped” him and then kicked him several times in the legs.

One beater also accused Mr Elder of assaulting him in the disagreement over the way the pheasants were being flushed out of woods.

The teenager, who can’t be named for legal reasons, claimed Mr Elder kicked him in the backside and told him to “get off my land”.

Mr Elder denied both allegations of assault, but admitted to throwing the patridge out of sheer frustration.

The partridge throw wasn’t included in the assault charge.

He was found not guilty of both charges following a trial at Weymouth Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

The court heard that the incident happened towards the end of a day of shooting on Stancombe Farm in the village of Askerswell, Dorset, on Nov 11 2021.

Mr Elder has run shoots on his 700-acre farm for 35 years and the event in question was one of the first to be held after the relaxation of Covid rules.

The shoot involved eight guns standing at set pegs at the bottom of a hill and the team of beaters driving out pheasants and partridge at the top.

There had been three drives in the morning and breaks for elevenses and lunch without any issues.  

But during the afternoon drive, Mr Elder became angry when he felt one end of the line was pushing the birds the wrong way.

He later explained he was aware that three of his clients positioned on one side of the estate had only bagged between 10 and 15 birds.

Mr Elder, who has owned the farm for 40 years, said: “My prepared statement was written within hours of the incident because I was going to bring a complaint against [the two complainants].

“Also the gunners could have come back with a financial claim on me so I also wrote it to show the gunners I was not at fault.

“I am responsible for the whole game, anything I say to the beaters they have to do. I can’t have people running around doing what they want.

“They have to follow my orders from a safety point of view because you have got people with guns. I’m not rude, I just give sharp orders.

“One side of the line kept moving the birds the wrong way. I had three guns who weren’t having any shooting.

“The five guns on the other end had lots, about 70 to 80 shots each, the three guns on the right side probably only had 10 to 15 shots each.

“He kept on moving when I expressly asked him not to. In the end I did say a sharp order ‘for god’s sake, please stop’.

“I was trying to get the birds over the other guns.”

Mr Burden said: “Everything was going well as far as I was concerned.

“Mr Elder was complaining the other end of the line was moving and coming in too quickly.

“From where I was I could see the other end of the beating line. Mr Elder wasn’t correct.

“As we got towards the end I realised some of the beaters had left due to the way he was talking to him so on the radio I told Mr Elder we couldn’t do another drive after this one because some of them had left and we didn’t have enough beaters to do it.”

Magistrates heard that the teenage beater first encountered Mr Elder on his way back to the farm.

Mr Elder claimed the teen was “extremely aggressive” and had a beater’s flag raised above his head so he kicked out in self-defence.

He said: “He started shouting at me that I don’t know anything about running a shoot and ‘we’re gonna do you’. He pushed past me, hitting me with his shoulder, and I pushed him away with my boot on his backside.”

Back at the farm Mr Elder said he told his clients not to tip the keeper because he had “lost the plot”.

Describing what happened with Mr Burden, he said: “Dan said ‘I’m going to f—— well belt you’ and Steve had to step in front of him.

“I said ‘go on, hit me, don’t just threaten me’ and in a fit of frustration I threw a partridge. It was supposed to hit the ground but it actually hit Dan at his feet.

“He started shouting all sorts of stupid names like ‘p—-’ and then threw the partridge back at me.

“Dan said ‘I’m going to bloody well hit you’ again but Steve said ‘no stop’ and I told him to go and never come back.”

Robert Ford, chairman of the bench, said the court had two contradictory statements regarding the alleged assault of Mr Burden and so they could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt that it happened.

With the alleged assault on the teenager, Mr Ford said they accepted Mr Elder was a man of good character and that he believed he perceived a threat and the push was proportionate.

The court found Mr Elder not guilty of both charges.


18 thoughts on “Dorset landowner cleared of assaulting gamekeeper & beater after argument over low number of gamebirds available to be shot”

  1. This says so much about so many things. The number of birds shot; the extraordinarily arrogant privilege of the landowner; the pressure that keepers are under to provide a ‘good day’s sport’. I’m surprised that there were no independent witness statements to support either side of the case.

  2. No surprise that shoot owners xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx The link between animal abuse and violence against people is well established.

    (The Telegraph article is behind a paywall… )

    [Ed: Thanks, Keith. Your first sentence is libellous, though! I didn’t realise it was paywalled – I’ll copy the article into the blog]

  3. ‘Chest bumping’…good grief. ! These imbeciles regard wholesale slaughter as normal, as does the judiciary, yet being all faux masculine will find you in court then….twud be laughable were this entire business not so vile……

  4. A set of overpriveledged children. Who should face far more consequences than they do. Absolutely no sympathy for gamekeeper either. Shame on them all.

  5. Another little glimpse into the world of shooting. The entitlement, the aggression, the lack of respect for the people who actually do the work, the pushback from the staff – very interesting – the numbers of birds, the money, the attempted cover-up. [Ed: What was the ‘attempted cover-up’??]

    I was interested by this: “Robert Ford, chairman of the bench, said the court had two contradictory statements regarding the alleged assault of Mr Burden and so they could not be sure beyond reasonable doubt that it happened.”

    This is very common and something we have seen in other areas of countryside conflict, especially hunting. The hunt staff are all told to directly contradict (tell lies) about any incidents for precisely this reason; if there are no witnesses then it’s their word against yours, which means no criminal conviction is possible.[Ed: there is no evidence in this case that anyone was instructed to ‘tell lies’].

    Another thing I’ve noticed with several of the recent cases of hunting and raptor persecution is that the accused (usually the staff) are pleading guilty rather than fight the case in court. The reasons for this are probably a) they don’t want details of other activities to come to light in court, b) they don’t want the staff to admit they were told to commit the offences by the employer/landowner and c) the employer doesn’t want to pay the cost of the defence.

    I’ve raised this with some hunt staff I know and pointed out that their employers don’t take any of the risks and are quite happy for their staff to get a criminal record while they benefit from the crimes. It’s interesting in this case that the keeper and beaters were pushing back and prepared to confront the employer and to walk off.

    I wonder if things are slowly changing in the world of recreational killing and that it’s under more stress than we thought…?

    1. The attempted cover up was to try to portray the altercation in reduced terms more favourable to the shoot owner.

      [Ed: Well unless you were there, I don’t think you can deduce from the news reports that there was an ‘attempted cover-up’. Mr Elder admitted to kicking the beater and the court accepted this was in self-defence. Mr Elder admitted to throwing the partridge at his gamekeeper but denied kicking and chest-bumping him. Unless you’ve got first-hand evidence to contradict this, what you’re claiming is libellous]

      1. Bit the whole story hasn’t been told and it’s painted the landowner as some sort of victim which isn’t the case.

  6. The “Crown” decides who is to be cited as witnesses. Defence or prosecution can cite witnesses. The “Crown” can also cite if it believes it to be in the interests of Justice.
    In my experience this can be influenced by negotiations between the prosecution and the defence. This leaves lot’s of room for collaberation should a specific verdict be desired. I am not accusing anyone involved in this case of behaving inappropriately or illegally.

    I have strong suspicions that local hegemony often plays a part in situations similar to this when one of the individuals involved is a well established, powerful, local resident with strong local networks and the other is a garden or common man. This is how courts appear to have worked historically over the centuries and although laws have changed inter-personal relationships, in general, have not. Many might view covert co-operation as being a win-win situation.
    If my general suspicions constructed from by my own experiences and research, are a correct understanding of what can occur then this would go a long way to clarifying many of the strange twists, turns and omissions that occur in our courtrooms.

  7. In the long history of altercations on shoot days, that is a beauty! Not quite the day that the weaponised partridge foresaw for itself, when it got up and started pecking about at it’s feed in the game cover that morning!

  8. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx this still leaves the question as to whether Mr Elder, and possibly Mr Burden are suitable persons to posses firearms?

    From what is reported there appears to have been aggressive and violent behaviour by both parties.

    It would also appear that there were probably other people present when the incident occurred, so I wonder what evidence, if any, they provided the court, or did they claim not have witnessed what happened?

    Interesting that this incident occurred in Dorset. A county that seems to be generating quite a number of stories related to game shooting recently.

    So, it will be even more interesting to see what action, if any, Dorset Police take over the issue of firearms certificates.

    I also find it interesting that this incident was covered by the Telegraph, because regardless of the outcome, it does bring into the public spotlight the behaviour of some of those involved in game shooting. Behaviour, that really isn’t going to promote some of those involved in game shooting in a very good light, and could perhaps make people question the credibility of the industry’s claims when it comes to matters like raptor persecution, especially if there were potential witnesses present who were looking the other way and unable to offer evidence to help establish exactly what did happen. [Ed: Also published by other, pro-gameshooting nationals incl the Times and Daily Mail]

    I do hope some of those senior managers from NE read the Telegraph, and spend a moment or two pondering on this side of the game shooting industry. A side that they might perhaps not have seen before during their carefully planned visits to the countryside!

  9. Knowing Dorset, my guess is that the influence of Freemasonry is probable here. It would be interesting to get hold of the Masonic Lodge books for Dorset. A friend of mine ran a campaign against Dorset Police for over 20 years. I know he has books of the members of Masonic Lodges but am not sure how recent they are.

  10. Two grown men throwing a dead partridge at each other….brings to mind the Monty Python fish slapping dance. The whole thing is disgusting rather than funny, but absurd too.

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