Millden Estate – plausible deniability or wilful blindness to gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies’ crimes?

Further to the conviction and jailing of Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies earlier this month for his crimes involving animal cruelty and firearms offences (see here), there’s been quite a lot of commentary about the role of the estate.

In the media coverage I’ve read on this case, an unidentified spokesman for Millden Estate has commented as follows:

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. These offences did not take place on the estate but happened at locations some distance away and unconnected to the estate“.

I want to examine the plausibility of the estate’s denial.

First of all, of course the estate is going to state that it ‘doesn’t condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife‘. It’s hardly going to say, ‘Oh yes, officer, we encourage all our employees to break the law and inflict sadistic cruelty on wildlife‘, is it?! And I would imagine, given the potential for a vicarious liability prosecution for raptor persecution these days, an estate of this size and prominence will have all its paperwork in order (e.g. statements in its employees’ contracts, evidence of on-going training etc) that it could produce to defend itself if an employee was caught committing wildlife crime.

This sort of paper trail is now commonplace on Scotland’s large shooting estates and has been encouraged by various shooting organisations who have provided advice (e.g. BASC here, Scottish Land & Estates here) and in some cases training (e.g. GWCT here). Ironically the document produced by SLE on vicarious liability acknowledges the help of someone believed to be linked to the sporting management of Millden Estate!

Whilst arse-covering paper audits might convince the authorities, what actual effect does it have on the activities of an estate’s employees?

Very little, judging by the criminality undertaken by gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, working on a estate that has a ‘horrendous catalogue‘ of wildlife crimes according to Alan Stewart, a former Police Wildlife Crime Officer who’s patch included the Angus Glens.

But the spokesperson from Millden Estate said: “We were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light”.

How plausible is that? How plausible is it that Rhys Owen Davies’ injured and scarred dogs, kennelled next to his cottage on the estate, weren’t seen by any of the estate’s other employees, including the multiple gamekeepers he worked alongside, for the 18 month period when he was using the dogs to inflict sadistic cruelty on foxes and badgers?

In my opinion, that’s pretty implausible. Have a look at this photograph of two of Davies’ mutilated dogs. It was published in the Daily Record and appears to show the dogs tethered to a vehicle that it would be reasonable to assume is a work vehicle:

In court, Davies’ defence barrister told the Sheriff that the dogs’ injuries were as a result of lawful ratting and foxing, which are part of a gamekeeper’s regular duties. It seems implausible to me that his work colleagues didn’t notice these injuries or that the extent of the injuries didn’t raise any suspicion as to their cause. They’d also know, I’d argue, that Davies wasn’t seeking professional veterinary advice on the treatment of those injuries.

Gamekeeping duties often involve the use of the keepers’ own dogs (e.g. see photo below) and the multiple gamekeepers employed on Millden Estate would have had ample opportunity to see Davies’ dogs at work and to ask him about what the Crown Office described as ‘obvious injuries’. Any concerns could have been raised with the Head Gamekeeper and /or the sporting agent / estate Factor.

The estate’s statement also included the line:

At no stage was the estate itself the focus of the investigation. These offences did not take place on the estate but happened at locations some distance away and unconnected to the estate“.

The estate WAS the focus of the investigation as the search warrant included a provision to search various sites on Millden Estate looking for evidence of badger sett disturbance. And Davies’ tied cottage and associated outbuildings on the estate were also searched, under warrant, where a number of serious firearms offences were uncovered, specifically, an unsecured Benelli shotgun was found propped up against a wall near the front door; two unsecured rifles were also found: a Tikka .243 rifle on the sofa and a CZ rifle in the hall cupboard next to the open gun cabinet;  and an assortment of unsecured ammunition was found including 23 bullets in a pot on the floor, five in a carrier bag behind the front door and one on top of a bed, according to a statement by the Crown Office.

As Davies was employed as an under-keeper, I’d argue that Millden Estate should bear significant responsibility for these serious breaches on the estate of shotgun & firearms legislation. Where was the supervision from Davies’ immediate supervisor, the Head Keeper? Davies’ estate cottage was unlocked and unattended when the SSPCA and Police Scotland arrived to execute the search warrant. Imagine who else could have walked in, found those firearms, shotgun and ammunition. If, as we’re led to believe by the shooting industry’s propaganda machine, that most if not all illegal behaviour on sporting estates is perpetrated by ‘unknown criminals’ totally unconnected to the estate, you’d think that the security of firearms, shotguns and ammunition would be of uppermost importance, wouldn’t you?

You can draw your own conclusions, of course, but it’s my opinion that Millden Estate’s efforts to distance itself from having any knowledge of Davies’ crimes are predictable but implausible. Especially after I’ve recently learned that there was another investigation into alleged badger baiting on this estate about 13 years ago; an investigation that didn’t go anywhere because apparently the procurator fiscal at that time refused to advance the case.

As for the bags of dead raptors found during the search in October 2019 at three different locations on the estate, and reportedly containing at least three shot buzzards, we now know that the Crown Office is not pursuing a prosecution (although the detailed rationale for this decision has not been divulged, see here) which means that Millden Estate will avoid a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability. I wait with interest to see whether NatureScot imposes a General Licence restriction in relation to the discovery of these dead raptors.

No prosecution for shot raptors found on Millden Estate, Angus Glens

On 8th October 2019, the Scottish SPCA executed a search warrant with Police Scotland on various properties on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens looking for evidence of animal cruelty and animal fighting, including badger baiting, after 58 gruesome photographs were reportedly sent to a printing shop in England by a Millden Estate employee.

Millden Estate is known for its grouse shooting (having been described in a sales brochure in 2011 as being ‘The Holy Grail‘ of grouse moors and ‘One of the finest sporting estates in Scotland‘) The estate also hosts pheasant and partridge-shooting on its low ground.

Millden Estate has also been described as a ‘savage, stripped, blasted land‘ by author and photographer Chris Townsend (here).

Millden Estate gamekeepers, along with others in the Angus Glens, have previously been feted by senior politicians, including former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Fergus Ewing MSP, former Minister Graeme Dey MSP, and by Prince Charles who was photographed with Millden keepers as he opened a tweed workshop in Beauly in 2019.

Millden Estate was also visited by Professor Werritty and his colleagues in 2018 during the review of grouse moor management; they visited the estate apparently to see an example of ‘best practice for managing grouse moors’.

The estate, one of a number in the Angus Glens, is also long- known amongst conservationists as a raptor persecution hotspot after the discovery of poisoned and shot buzzards in 2009 and 2011 (here), a poisoned golden eagle (Alma) in 2009 (here), and a satellite-tagged golden eagle seemingly caught in a spring trap and then apparently uplifted overnight and dumped on Deeside with two broken legs & left to die (here). Nobody has ever been prosecuted for any of these alleged offences and Millden Estate has denied any responsibility.

In October 2019 during the morning raid at Millden Estate the SSPCA did find evidence of animal fighting and cruelty, including badger baiting, and after two and a half years of protracted legal process, in May this year 28 year old gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies was convicted of a number of animal cruelty, animal fighting, and firearms offences: (for previous blogs on this case see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Davies is due to be sentenced on Monday.

Other evidence of alleged wildlife crime was also uncovered during that search of Millden Estate back in October 2019, including the discovery of a number of dead raptors wrapped in bags at at least three separate locations, apparently including at the residences of two estate employees.

Whilst the SSPCA led on the investigation into animal cruelty/animal fighting, Police Scotland led on the investigation into the dead raptors (because the SSPCA don’t, yet, have the powers to investigate cases where a wild animal is already dead – bonkers, I know – see here for the background on this).

I have spent the last two and a half years chasing Police Scotland about these dead raptors and asking for status updates on the investigation. I have to say I’ve been summarily unimpressed. The investigation has been conducted at a snail’s pace and communication has been dire. I understand that the dead raptors all underwent post mortems and it was determined they’d been shot. No information has been provided about the number of species involved (although it’s been reported that some were buzzards), nor the number of individuals confirmed to have been shot, although I know of at least three.

Earlier this week I asked the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) about this case and whether it was progressing (i.e. has anyone been charged?). To its credit, the COPFS response was fast, but the case outcome familiarly frustrating:

The Procurator Fiscal received a report relating to a 28 year old male and incidents said to have occurred between 1 January 2019 and 8 October 2019. After careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the available admissible evidence, the Procurator Fiscal decided that there should be no proceedings taken at this time. The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future should further evidence become available‘.

I doubt we’ll ever be informed about the extent of the raptor persecution uncovered (even now, nearly three years after the raptor corpses were found, Police Scotland has failed to issue any press statement) and we’ll certainly not learn any more detail about why charges weren’t brought because the COPFS is not obliged to inform the public about its decision-making process. Apparently transparency doesn’t apply.

To be fair, a prosecution would depend on an individual suspect being identified but there are multiple employees at Millden Estate (16 were listed in the estate’s sales brochure in 2011) and a recent photo on social media suggests there are multiple gamekeepers (there’s a photo online showing 13 men dressed as gamekeepers in Millden Estate tweed at the start of the 2020 grouse season).

I think it’s fair to say that any employee could have the motivation, means and opportunity to commit wildlife crime – we now know that at least one of them, Rhys Owen Davies, was doing exactly that, apparently right under the noses of his colleagues and bosses on Millden Estate – but just having the motivation, means and opportunity isn’t sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. Having a carrier bag full of shot raptors at your house isn’t enough for a court of law to convict, although if there was a bag of dead raptors at my house I’m pretty sure I’d notice them and I’m pretty certain I’d have notified the police.

So where does that leave us? We await the sentencing of gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies on Monday but I don’t expect any of us have high hopes for a fitting sentence.

Millden Estate must surely now qualify for a General Licence restriction, a monumentally ineffective sanction but the only thing left on the table until the Scottish Government pulls its finger out and introduces the licensing scheme it promised to develop in November 2020.

But even if the authorities do decide to impose a General Licence restriction on Millden Estate, that won’t curtail the estate’s ability to continue to host grouse, pheasant and partridge shoots. The estate, which is run through a series of companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs), including one called Millden Sporting LLP, reported tangible assets in 2021 of £17.5 million.

That’s a lot of money, and with it comes a lot of influence.

Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Davies: delayed sentencing explained

In May this year, Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, 28, pleaded guilty to a number of depraved animal cruelty offences relating to the keeping and training of dogs for animal fighting (badger baiting) and of failing to seek veterinary attention for dogs that had sustained serious injuries from those fights (see here).

He also pleaded guilty to a number of firearms offences after the Scottish SPCA raided his home in 2019 on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens and found three unsecure guns and ammunition left lying around inside the house.

His fellow gamekeepers, the sporting agent and the landowner at Millden Estate (a well known raptor persecution hotspot) all apparently failed to notice any of his crimes, or the injuries sustained by some of his eleven dogs housed in kennels on the estate. They also apparently failed to notice the bags of dead raptors scattered around the estate – more on those soon.

Davies was only caught because, being a top-notch criminal mastermind, he sent ‘trophy’ photos of himself and some of his mates posing with mutilated animals to a printing shop and used his address on Millden Estate as the return address. The shop assistant alerted the Scottish SPCA who immediately opened an investigation.

On conviction at Forfar Sheriff Court on 5th May 2022, Sheriff Derek Reekie ignored the mitigation plea from the defendant’s QC (who paid for this QC??) and instead concurred with Crown Office Fiscal, Karon Rollo, who 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 was due on 28th June 2022.

[Photographic evidence of badger baiting from Millden Estate gamekeeper’s phone. Photo provided by SSPCA]

Sentencing day arrived but frustratingly, sentencing was deferred for a further five weeks (here) without any explanation appearing in the media. This led to all sorts of unhelpful conspiracy theories on social media, mostly referring to the Masons and a corrupt judiciary.

I’ve since been provided with some information by someone who was present in court at that deferred sentencing hearing and hopefully this explanation will put to bed the conspiracy theories.

In May, Sheriff Reekie had asked for a report on Davies’ domestic circumstances in Wales, where Davies had since moved to after leaving Millden Estate in the Angus Glens. The Sheriff had allowed seven weeks for that report to be compiled and expected it to be available at the sentencing hearing on 28th June.

However, it turns out the social services department in Wales had only managed to make one phone call to Davies’ parents during that seven-week period and had not made a home visit. That’s probably an indication of how stretched these services are but nevertheless, the background report on Davies wasn’t ready.

Rather than ignore the non-existent social report and just pass sentence anyway, Sheriff Reekie allowed a further five weeks for that report to be completed. Apparently he made clear that this was to avoid providing any grounds for an appeal (by Davies’ QC) later on.

Sentencing is now due on 1st August 2022.

On the separate issue of dead raptors being found on Millden Estate during the search, I’ll be blogging about that very soon.

Sentencing deferred for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies

Sentencing has been deferred today for depraved Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies.

Davies, 28, had pleaded guilty at Forfar Sheriff Court in May 2022 to a number of animal cruelty offences relating to the keeping and training of dogs for animal fighting (badger baiting) and of failing to seek veterinary attention for dogs that had sustained serious injuries from those fights. He had also pleaded guilty to a number of firearms offences after the Scottish SPCA raided his home in 2019 on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens and found three unsecure guns and ammunition lying around inside the house.

[A screen shot of media coverage in May 2022 after Davies had pleaded guilty]

Davies was identified as part of a brutal dog-fighting ring when he submitted grotesque ‘trophy’ photographs to be printed, using his address on Millden Estate as the return address. Shop workers alerted the Scottish SPCA who then launched an investigation.

Sentencing was deferred in May for social reports after Sheriff Derek Reekie told Davies:

This is truly disturbing and stressful. It’s just horrendous. It seems to me I’ve got to consider a custodial sentence.

This was clearly an organised activity. It’s clear from messages a group of these people were engaging in organised fighting and killing of animals“.

Davies was due to be sentenced today but this has now been deferred until 1st August 2022.

There isn’t any further news yet about the separate case concerning sacks full of dead raptors that were also found during the SSPCA raid on Millden Estate. Police Scotland is apparently dealing with that case.

UPDATE 12th July 2022: Convicted Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Davies: delayed sentencing explained (here)

Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies due to be sentenced for animal cruelty offences

Sentencing is due tomorrow of convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies for animal cruelty offences, as well as a number of firearms offences.

Davies, 28, pleaded guilty in May to a number of offences relating to the keeping and training of dogs for animal fighting (badger baiting) and of failing 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 at his cottage on Millden Estate.

[Rhys Owen Davies photographed outside Forfar Sheriff Court in May. Photo by Ross Gardiner from The Courier]

The depraved crimes of this Angus Glens gamekeeper were uncovered by an investigation led by the Scottish SPCA 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). He received a ten-year ban for owning dogs, a one-year supervision order, and was ordered to undertake 240 hours of unpaid work.

It’ll be interesting to see what sentence Davies receives tomorrow. His defence lawyer (a QC, no less – I wonder if Millden Estate paid for his services?), tried to plead for mitigation on conviction 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.

Unfortunately, Davies committed his disgusting crimes prior to the Scottish Government’s introduction of tougher penalties for animal cruelty and wildlife crime. That legislation, the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, increased the maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes (including badger baiting) to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines. However, it wasn’t enacted until November 2020. Davies’ crimes were committed in 2019, and I doubt the increased penalties can be applied retrospectively.

Even after sentencing tomorrow, this case won’t be 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 is dealing with this aspect of the case but so far the investigating officer has been very reluctant to provide updates on case progress. I’ll be returning to this in due course.

Previous blogs on this case can be read herehereherehereherehereherehere, here

UPDATE 28th June 2022: Sentencing deferred for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies (here)

Court case delayed against Wiltshire gamekeeper Archie Watson

Criminal proceedings against a 21-year-old gamekeeper for multiple alleged raptor persecution and firearms offences have been delayed.

Archie Watson, of Dragon Lane in Manningford Bruce near Pewsey, Wiltshire, was due to appear at Swindon Magistrates next Wednesday (25th May 2022) to face six charges under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and three charges under firearms legislation, for offences alleged to have been committed on an unnamed game-shooting estate in 2019.

However, this case has now been adjourned to 1st June 2022 where Watson will be invited to submit his plea. If he pleads guilty sentencing will follow shortly afterwards; if he pleads not guilty this case will proceed to trial at a later date.

This case relates to a multi-agency raid in Wiltshire in September 2020 when two warrants were executed at locations in the Pewsey and Beckhampton areas. Firearms were seized as part of ongoing enquiries, and the carcasses of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards, were located at the site in Beckhampton (see here).

Earlier this month a Wiltshire Police spokesperson said: ‘The case has been brought after almost two years of detailed investigation and forensic analysis in conjunction with the CPS, RSPB and other partners. It is potentially the largest English raptor persecution case in terms of the number of alleged victims‘.

For context, and to provide an indication of how many raptor deaths may be involved, prior to this case the largest one in England was at the Stody Estate in Norfolk in 2014 (here) when gamekeeper Allen Lambert was found guilty of poisoning 11 birds of prey – 10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk.

PLEASE NOTE: As Archie Watson has been charged and court proceedings are live, I won’t be accepting blog comments on this case until criminal proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your understanding.

For previous blogs on this case please see here, here and here.

Wiltshire gamekeeper facing multiple charges of raptor persecution is named

Further to last week’s blog about a Wiltshire gamekeeper facing multiple raptor persecution and firearms offences (see here), this individual has now been named.

According to the Swindon Advertiser (here), the gamekeeper is 21-year-old Archie Watson of Dragon Lane in Manningford Bruce near Pewsey, Wiltshire.

Watson is due in court on 25th May to face six charges under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and three firearms offences.

This case relates to a multi-agency raid in Wiltshire in September 2020 when two warrants were executed at locations in the Pewsey and Beckhampton areas. Firearms were seized as part of ongoing enquiries, and the carcasses of a number of birds of prey, including red kites and buzzards, were located at the location in Beckhampton (see here).

A Wiltshire Police spokesperson said: ‘The case has been brought after almost two years of detailed investigation and forensic analysis in conjunction with the CPS, RSPB and other partners. It is potentially the largest English raptor persecution case in terms of the number of alleged victims‘.

For context, and to provide an indication of how many raptor deaths may be involved, prior to this case the largest one in England was at the Stody Estate in Norfolk in 2014 (here) when gamekeeper Allen Lambert was found guilty of poisoning 11 birds of prey – 10 buzzards and one sparrowhawk.

PLEASE NOTE: As Archie Watson has now been charged, I won’t be accepting blog comments on this case until criminal proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your understanding.

UPDATE 20th May 2022: Court case delayed against Wiltshire gamekeeper Archie Watson (here)

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

Further delay for trial of Millden Estate gamekeeper accused of animal fighting offences

There has been yet further delay in the trial of a Scottish gamekeeper from the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, who is accused of a number of animal welfare offences related to animal fighting.

This trial was due to commence today, after a series of adjournments going back to November 2020(!) but once again the case has been delayed, this time until May 2022.

Here’s some history on this case:

Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA raided a property on Millden Estate and another property in Aberdeenshire in October 2019 after intelligence suggested animal fighting was taking place. A number of dogs were seized (see here) and a number of dead raptors were also discovered. The Scottish SPCA was dealing with the alleged animal fighting offences and Police Scotland were supposed to be dealing with the discovery of the dead raptors.

Charges relating to alleged animal fighting offences were brought in November 2020. Specifically these were under the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 as follows:

Section 19 (concerns offences related to unnecessary suffering).

Section 23 (concerns offences related to animal fights).

Section 24 (concerns offences related to ensuring the welfare of animals).

A preliminary hearing was due to be heard in court in November 2020 but was adjourned until 11th May 2021 and a trial date was set for 2nd June 2021.

The June trial date came and went and the case was further delayed, with a new trial date set for 3rd December 2021.

That December trial was adjourned, apparently at the behest of the gamekeeper’s QC, and a new trial date was set for 11th April 2022 (i.e. today).

Today’s trial has also been adjourned and a new trial date has been set for 5th May 2022.

There hasn’t been any public statement from Police Scotland about the circumstances in which the dead raptors were found. I have been asking the Police Wildlife Crime Officer about this aspect of the case for a couple of years now but the responses have been evasive and non-committal. Until January this year, when I was told:

“… A report is being submitted [to the Crown Office] forthwith.”

Unfortunately as this is a live case I am unable to publish further details or accept comments until proceedings have concluded. Thanks for your patience.

Previous blogs on this case can be read herehereherehereherehere, here

13% increase in recorded wildlife crime incidents in Scotland – new Government report

The Scottish Government has published its latest annual wildlife crime report, covering the period April 2019-March 2020, which reveals an increase of 13% in recorded wildlife crime incidents.

Raptor persecution offences increased during this period, with shooting and poisoning being the joint highest recorded crime type. Obviously, these figures only represent offences that have been discovered; there will be many more that went undiscovered, as acknowledged by the report’s foreword written by Environment Minister Mairi McAllen.

Here are a few excerpts from the Minister:

After a drop in recorded wildlife crime incidents of over 60% between the 2014-15 report and 2018-19, it is frustrating to see an increase of 13% in recorded wildlife crime incidents in 2019-20. Wildlife crime is not only abhorrent, it is also completely at odds with our work to address the biodiversity crisis, which is supported by so many people and organisations across Scotland.

While it is reassuring that incidents of wildlife crime have not returned to previous higher levels, we remain aware that recorded wildlife crime does not provide the full picture. This is an area where the victims are unable to speak for themselves and we know that many wildlife crimes are not witnessed and not reported. This has been especially true in the area of raptor persecution where tagged birds have disappeared in unexplained circumstances and where expected numbers of some species are not present in certain areas.

The Scottish Government has always been clear that wildlife crime is unacceptable, and we have brought forward a number of measures to tackle the issue over the years. These measures have included a poisons amnesty, vicarious liability, restrictions on general licences and most recently, significant increases in penalties for wildlife crimes. I am sure many of you reading this share my frustration that despite these measures there are some who continue to take a selfish, cruel and callous approach to our wildlife.

It is disappointing to see a rise in raptor persecution offences from the previous year. We have committed to taking forward the recommendations made by the Grouse Moor Management Group as a matter of urgency, to tackle this type of offence. We will bring forward legislation during this parliamentary term with the aim of putting in place a meaningful, effective and workable sanctions through a licensing system to deter and punish those who deliberately commit crimes in our uplands, without placing unworkable and disproportionate burdens on the majority who work within the law‘.

Yada, yada, yada. The Scottish Government’s idea of what constitutes ‘a matter of urgency’ is very different to mine. The Werritty report on grouse moor management, on which the Government made it’s decision to implement a licencing scheme for grouse shooting in Scotland, was submitted in November 2019. Here we are in April 2022 and nothing has happened except repeated statements from Ministers, now over a period of years, about it being a ‘matter of urgency’.

It’s obvious that raptor persecution isn’t going to stop without further statutory intervention, and depending on what that looks like and how it’s implemented and enforced, it probably still won’t stop without a ban on certain types of gamebird shooting. The longer the Scottish Government procrastinates, the longer these crimes will persist.

Pick a date and get on with it.

You can read/download the Scottish Government’s 2020 annual report on wildlife crime here:

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