Police seize three tawny owls during raid on Cheshire home

Three tawny owls have been seized at a house in St Helens as police carried out a raid as part of an investigation into an alleged wild bird disturbance in Cheshire.

[Photo of the seized owls, by Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team]

Officers in St Helens joined Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team to execute the warrant at an address in Newton-le-Willows on 20th June 2022.

The owls were reportedly found in poor conditions with a lack of documentation and they’ve been passed in to the care of the RSPCA.

The raid was in connection with allegations of possible offences at an unnamed Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Cheshire.

In a statement police said: “A number of partner agencies joined us, including Natural England, RSPCA (England & Wales) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

At present Cheshire Police are still investigating. During the warrant three tawny owls were seized due to poor conditions and no relevant records being located, along with other related evidence and a quantity of class B drugs.

Wildlife Crime is a growing issue and it is important to tackle it with our partner agencies.

Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team confirmed a warrant was executed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but added that limited details could be released because it is an ongoing investigation.

In a statement, the team said: “We executed a warrant in the Merseyside area. This was in relation to (possible) offences committed with regard to scheduled and wild bird disturbance at a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Cheshire.

This is now a joint investigation with Natural England and Cheshire Rural Crime Team. We will keep you updated with this investigation, as soon as we are able to release further information.”

Dorset Police continues its damage limitation exercise re: its botched investigation into the poisoned eagle

Dorset Police is still desperately undertaking a damage limitation exercise in relation to its botched investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in January.

The following article appeared in the Dorset Echo yesterday, reproduced here:

DORSET Police said it has “never been in any doubt” the poisoning of an “extremely rare” white tailed eagle is a “serious offence”.

An investigation was launched in February after the bird had been found dead in North Dorset.

Despite finding high levels of rat poison brodifacoum in the eagle, named G461, Dorset Police dropped the investigation, a decision which “baffled” the RSPB.

Dorset Police said tests were “inconclusive” and it was not possible to confirm if a criminal offence had been committed.

Now, after large criticism and a Freedom of Information request revealed correspondence between West Dorset MP Chris Loder, who reportedly said the investigation should not be a priority, and Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick, a specialist investigator has been brought in by police.

A spokesperson for Dorset Police said: “We understand that concern has been expressed as to whether more could have been done in respect of the investigation into the death of the white-tailed sea eagle.

“Therefore, in the interests of transparency, it was important for a senior detective to review the investigation, seeking expertise from the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme and liaising with a specialist prosecutor from the CPS to ascertain if the evidential threshold for prosecution is met. We hope this will give confidence in decisions made.

“It has never been in any doubt for Dorset Police that if poisoned deliberately, this is a serious offence as the sea eagle is protected by the law.

“We have always been keen to secure a prosecution if at all possible and have been working with a range of partners to try and achieve this.

“We have increased the number of officers with knowledge of wildlife crime offences and are working with our partners to ensure we are able to utilise our different powers, expertise and resources to their best effect.

“We will of course reflect on any learning in respect of the initial or future investigations.”

The spokesperson added the force was always open to new information and hoped it could give “further transparency” to future decisions.

Correspondence between Mr Loder and Mr Sidwick showed the latter saying the pair needed to get their “ducks in the row on this one”.

In a statement on the PCC’s website, he said suggestions the investigation was politically impeded were “bizarre and entirely without merit”.

He added: “It is a plain and simple fact that the team continues to do what they have always done, which is to tackle all aspects of rural, wildlife and heritage-related crime in Dorset.”

Answering what was meant by getting “ducks in a row”, Mr Sidwick said: “All this meant was that was there was a need a for a mutual understanding about the independence of Dorset Police to carry out investigations as they see fit.”

The eagle was released as part of a reintroduction project by Forestry England in a bid to bring the breed back to the country after an absence of over 240 years, by releasing up to 60 birds over five years.

ENDS

It’s a nice try by Dorset Police, but, as I’ve said previously, asking a senior officer from the same police force to review the investigation is effectively just Dorset Police marking its own homework. Had it been a review undertaken by a senior officer from another force it might have been more credible, although of course that would depend on the integrity of that force/officer. As regular blog readers will be only too aware, there is huge disparity between how different police forces and different officers tackle wildlife crime investigations. Some are fantastic, some are not.

But anyway, the ‘review’ undertaken by the senior officer from Dorset Police has already been done according to comments made by Dorset Police Chief Scott Chilton in a Facebook live chat almost three weeks ago, and that officer had determined that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ and ‘no outstanding lines of enquiry’ to progress the case. Well of course, if you fail to conduct a search you’re not going to find any evidence, are you? It’s simply bonkers.

And increasing the size of the force’s rural crime team is utterly pointless if investigations are going to be closed down prematurely. Dorset Police could employ 3,000 wildlife crime officers but if they’re not allowed to undertake a search to look for evidence when an eagle has been found poisoned with 7 x the lethal dose, then what’s the point?

Besides, they don’t need 3,000 wildlife crime officers – they had one (Claire Dinsdale) who was brilliantly committed and effective and who was leading on the poisoned eagle investigation until senior officers pulled the plug and Claire left on long-term sick leave. They only need to employ a few like Claire (and Dorset Police does have some good officers in its rural crime team), and then support them in their investigations, and they’d get results.

And as for claiming ‘transparency’, good grief. Dorset Police continues to refuse to respond to Freedom of Information requests and has now been reported to the Information Commissioner for multiple breaches of the Freedom of Information Act.

If it wants to regain public trust and confidence, Dorset Police can start by explaining the real reason the poisoned eagle investigation was dropped (because this fundamental question still hasn’t been answered). And then it could highlight the ongoing investigation (running since 2021) into alleged raptor poisoning, on the very same estate where the poisoned white-tailed eagle was found(!!) and tell us whether anyone is being charged.

It can also provide an update on the toxicology results of the dead buzzard and red kite, picked up on another shooting estate in early March (see here), and the dead buzzard found on another estate in late April (here).

There is clearly a raptor persecution problem in Dorset, and Dorset Police needs the public onside to help detect these incidents, and we need Dorset Police to do its job properly and try and bring these criminals to the courts. Nobody is suggesting this is easy – we’re all well aware of the difficulties involved, but the least we should expect is that the police will take every opportunity to undertake a robust and thorough investigation, and not to drop it when a local MP kicks off on social media with ridiculous and outdated anti-eagle hysteria.

Well done to local Dorset Echo reporter Ben Williets for tracking this case and keeping it in the news.

Red kite shot in Wiltshire: Police appeal for information

A public appeal for information from Wiltshire Police Rural Crime Team (14th June 2022):

Information appeal

A dead kite was recovered from a public footpath close to Hens wood, Axford, Wiltshire on the 20/04/2022 following a report from the public. Further forensic work into the cause of death has found that the bird had been shot.

We are appealing for any information around the shooting of the Red kite or any person who may have been in the area on the 16/04/2022 who saw anything suspicious to contact the Wiltshire Rural crime team via 101 – quote crime report 54220038890

Watch Dorset’s poisoned eagle fiasco on BBC’s Countryfile

Well done to the BBC’s Countryfile programme last Sunday for doing a 12-minute feature about the poisoning of the white-tailed eagle on an unnamed shooting estate in Dorset in January, and Dorset Police’s fiasco of an investigation which was brought to an abrupt halt when the police decided, astonishingly, that they ‘didn’t have sufficient evidence’ to execute a search warrant on the estate. This decision was made shortly after local MP Chris Loder argued on Twitter that the Police shouldn’t be investigating it and that eagles weren’t welcome in Dorset anyway.

Countryfile isn’t generally renowned for its hard-hitting investigations but I’ve got to say I was pleased with what they produced. Sure, a lot of material was left on the cutting room floor and they studiously removed all the discussion about the scale of illegal raptor persecution in the UK and the ingrained raptor-killing culture amongst some of the game-shooting industry, who still refer to these protected species as ‘vermin’, but I think for millions of viewers, who generally aren’t a specialised audience, this piece would still have been an eye-opener.

I’ve spoken to a few people since it aired who didn’t even know that eagles could now be found in southern England, let alone that they were being poisoned. They do now.

I was also impressed that they managed to get Chris Loder MP in front of a camera and the Assistant Chief Constable of Dorset Police, Rachel Farrell. Remember this is the police force that has repeatedly refused to respond to Freedom of Information requests on this matter. Personally, I don’t think either of them gave convincing explanations that there wasn’t any undue political pressure placed on the police to close down the investigation (asking a senior officer from the same force to effectively ‘mark the Police’s own homework’ doesn’t cut much ice with me), but you can draw your own conclusions.

I think a lot of credit needs to go to Countryfile’s researcher James Agyepong-Parsons, a former journalist from the ENDS Report and the instigator for Countryfile running this piece. He was meticulous in ensuring that the facts of this case were accurately presented, and Charlotte Smith did a brilliant job in pressing for answers.

It’s now available to watch on BBC iPlayer for the next 11 months (here – starts at 09.50 min).

There’s still much more to come out about this case, including the name of the estate where the eagle was found poisoned. It hasn’t yet been made public because there is another, separate, ongoing investigation into alleged raptor persecution that I understand is nearing a charging decision. Nobody wants to name the estate for fear of giving Dorset Police any excuse to drop this other case. We shouldn’t have to be concerned about that but such is the loss of confidence in Dorset Police that nobody is taking any chances.

Gloucestershire Police appeal for info after goshawk found shot in Forest of Dean

Press release from Gloucestershire Constabulary (13th June 2022)

Appeal for information after birds of prey are found dead in the Forest of Dean

Officers are appealing for information after two birds of prey were found dead in the Forest of Dean.

A Goshawk and Sparrowhawk were found next to a bus stop just south of Aylburton near Lydney on the A48 by a member of the public on Monday 25 April.

The male Goshawk was just under 17-years-old and X-rays show that the bird had been shot with a shotgun.

The cause of death has not yet been established for the male Sparrowhawk however post mortems will take place for both birds. 

[The shot goshawk. Photos via Gloucestershire Constabulary]

PC Cath McDay said: “This is an awful crime under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981, to truly special birds

The Goshawk had managed to live to an exceptional age only for his life to be ended like this.”

Enquiries are ongoing and investigating officers are asking anyone with information on the incident to please get in contact.

Information can be submitted by completing the following form online and quoting incident number 130 of 25 April: https://www.gloucestershire.police.uk/tua/tell-us-about/cor/tell-us-about-existing-case-report/    

Alternatively, you can call 101 and quote the same incident number or speak to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

ENDS

Poisoned eagle investigation: “You and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one” – Dorset PCC tells Chris Loder MP

Regular blog readers will know that I’ve been chasing up correspondence between the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), David Sidwick, and Dorset MP Chris Loder, in relation to the poisoned white-tailed eagle found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in north Dorset in January 2022.

For new blog readers, this is the investigation that Dorset Police chose to close, prematurely, having refused to conduct a search of the estate for any evidence of criminality.

The decision to close the investigation has been described as ‘completely baffling‘ by the RSPB, who up until that point had been helping with the investigation. The decision also coincided with the Force’s award-winning wildlife crime officer going on long-term sick leave with stress, a re-branding of the Force’s wildlife crime team to remove the word ‘wildlife’, and with an astonishing outburst on Twitter by Chris Loder MP, who had criticised Dorset Police for spending time and resources on the investigation and who argued that eagles ‘weren’t welcome’ in Dorset. It’s clear from Loder’s entry on the Westminster Parliamentary Register of Interests that his electoral campaign had received significant financial support from at least one large Dorset estate where the landowners have links to the game-shooting industry and the Countryside Alliance.

Unsurprisingly, there were suspicions that undue political pressure had been put on to Dorset Police, resulting in the Force’s ridiculous decision to halt the investigation in mid-flow, so I submitted a series of Freedom of Information requests to Dorset Police and the Dorset PCC to try and establish exactly who had said what, to whom, and when.

My FoI request to the Dorset PCC was made on 4th March 2022. After a long period of silence (and thus a breach of the Freedom of Information Act), the PCC finally responded and sent me copies of some correspondence between PCC David Sidwick and Chris Loder MP about this poisoned eagle.

However, on examining the correspondence (here) it was obvious to me that some correspondence was ‘missing’, so I wrote back and asked for any ‘missing’ correspondence to be provided.

It turns out that there was indeed some ‘missing’ correspondence, and that has now been provided to me (or at least some of it has – I suspect there’s more, as I’ll explain below).

The PCC has sent me three emails that were ‘missing’ from the first batch.

The first ‘missing’ email was this one, from Chris Loder MP to PCC David Sidwick, dated 15th February 2022 at 06.27hrs:

The first line of this email is significant.

Dave, The Guardian will cover EagleGate tomorrow‘.

Why is this significant? Well, because according to the PCC, this is supposedly the very first piece of correspondence between Loder and Sidwick about this poisoned eagle, and yet Loder describes it as ‘EagleGate‘, which suggests to me that there had been earlier correspondence about it, otherwise Sidwick wouldn’t have known what Loder was on about.

The second ‘missing’ email was sent by Loder to Sidwick on the same day, as a follow-on to his first email. Loder sent this email to Sidwick at 08.19hrs:

The third ‘missing’ email was a response by Sidwick to Loder, sent on the same day at 08.40hrs:

I think you and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one.

I will be in the car from 9.30“.

It couldn’t be clearer to me that there was some level of collusion going on between Sidwick and Loder and that we haven’t been told the full extent of it.

I have written back to the PCC to ask whether that first ‘missing’ email was actually the very first time Loder and Sidwick had corresponded about the poisoned eagle investigation, because starting his email with the phrase ‘EagleGate‘, without offering Sidwick any explanation about what that phrase meant, and Sidwick not asking Loder for an explanation of what he meant by the phrase ‘EagleGate‘, just isn’t credible. They both clearly knew what ‘EagleGate‘ meant, which means they had discussed this topic prior to that first email from Loder on 15th February 2022.

There’s more to come on this.

For previous blogs on this case, please see here

Police lead more multi-agency raids after suspected raptor persecution & poisoning in Durham & Northumbria

Statement from Durham Constabulary (27th May 2022)

Joint operation targets suspected raptor persecution and poisoning of birds of prey

Police have carried out searches at several locations this week in connection with suspected raptor persecution and poisoning of birds of prey. 

Officers from Durham and Northumbria attended the addresses across the two force areas following information received from the public. 

Suspicious substances were seized from some of the locations and taken away for forensic examination. 

[Photo from Durham Constabulary]

The multi-agency operation was carried out with the help and support of Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

It also formed part of Operation Owl, which is a national initiative to increase awareness of bird of prey persecution and to seek support in tackling it head on. 

Raptor persecution is one of the UK Wildlife Crime Priorities, which includes poisoning, shooting, trapping, and habitat and nest destruction. 

PC David Williamson, Durham Constabulary’s Wildlife Crime Officer, said: “In the UK, birds of prey are a protected species and any criminal offences committed against these beautiful creatures are completely unacceptable. 

We have acted on intelligence from the local community to carry out this operation and try and disrupt those involved in these activities

We’d encourage anyone with an information on potential criminal activity in their area to call us on 101 or report it via Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”

ENDS

Well done Durham Constabulary, Northumbria Police, Natural England, RSPB and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

These latest multi-agency raids are the latest in a surge of similar investigations in response to raptor persecution crimes over the last 18 months, including a raid in Suffolk on 18th January 2021 (here), a raid in January 2021 in Nottinghamshire (here), on 15th March 2021 a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March 2021 a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March 2021 a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April 2021 a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August 2021 a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August 2021 a raid in Herefordshire (here), on 14th September 2021 a raid in Norfolk (here), a raid in Wales in October 2021 (here) a raid in Humberside on 10th December 2021 (here), a raid in North Wales on 8th February 2022 (here) and another raid in Suffolk on 22nd April 2022 (here).

So far, only two of these investigations have concluded. These are the Nottinghamshire case (from January 2021), where gamekeeper John Orrey was sentenced in January 2022 for battering to death two buzzards he’d caught inside a trap (here), and the Suffolk case (also from January 2021) where gamekeeper Shane Leech was convicted of firearms and pesticides offences in November 2021 after the discovery of a poisoned buzzard found close to pheasant-rearing pens in Lakenheath (here).

The conviction yesterday of gamekeeper Archie Watson in Wiltshire (here) was the result of another multi-agency raid undertaken in 2020 (here).

I was at a wildlife crime meeting recently when it was announced that at least 12 raptor persecution cases are pending court hearings, some of them also dating back to 2019. That’s indicative of the hard work of these investigators and they deserve full credit for their efforts. It’s been a long, long time since that number of raptor persecution cases have got anywhere near a court room. Well done all.

Gamekeeper Archie Watson convicted of raptor persecution & firearms offences on Wiltshire pheasant shoot

On 1 June 2022 at Swindon Magistrates Court gamekeeper Archie Watson (21) of Dragon Lane, Manningford Bruce, Pewsey received a 12-month community order to carry out 180 hours unpaid work and was ordered to pay £393 costs and £95 surcharge for pleading guilty to raptor persecution offences relating to the discovery in 2020 of at least 11 buzzards, four red kites and one gull species that had been dumped down a well on Galteemore Farm, a pheasant-shooting venue in Wiltshire.

[Gamekeeper Watson caught on camera dumping a buzzard in the well. Photo by Guy Shorrock/RSPB]

Watson was caught on camera 13 times after the RSPB installed a covert video recorder following a tip off by a member of the public. He denied killing the birds but pleaded guilty to possession of dead birds – three red kites, five buzzards and a herring or black-backed gull – contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. He claimed in court that he had ‘found’ the dead birds on the estate.

He also pleaded guilty to firearms offences after a loaded shotgun was discovered on the seat of his unlocked vehicle. Following a search at Watson’s home, several firearms were discovered that had been left unlocked and next to unsecured ammunition.

There has been significant media coverage of this latest conviction and I’d encourage you to read the following articles and watch the Channel 4 video, which reveals the extent of the multi-agency investigation that brought Watson to court:

RSPB Investigations blog here

Wiltshire Police statement here

Crown Prosecution Service statement here

Channel 4 News video here

ITV News coverage here

One of this blog’s readers attended court yesterday and has provided this excellent commentary on what went on:

[Court documents showing the charges faced by gamekeeper Archie Watson]

Charges 1 to 3 were dropped by the CPS as they couldn’t present sufficient evidence that Watson was the person who actually did the killing. It appears that he did not admit to killing them under questioning prior to the case and continued to maintain that in court that he had merely ‘found’ the carcasses as part of his duties out and about on the estate. He then disposed of them in a well estimated to be 8m deep with no water apparent and covered by a manhole cover. 

Having been alerted to the suspected disappearance of raptors (I couldn’t hear who by) the RSPB and possibly others (Wildlife Crime Unit?) set up camera surveillance at the site of the well. After an initial inspection of the contents of the well (by lowering a GoPro camera into it) it was found to contain remains of various birds including Common Buzzards, Red Kites and a Herring or Lesser Black Backed Gull). Following this the number of surveillance cameras was increased.

Watson was identified in the recordings on more than one occasion depositing bird carcasses into the well and on one occasion was recorded on audio in conversation with another person (not named) indicating that he knew ‘gulls were protected’. The evidence was passed to the police (Wiltshire Constabulary) who obtained warrants to search two addresses linked to Watson who was then arrested while staying at the address of a relative in Beckhampton (Nr Avebury, Wiltshire).

Searches of Watson’s home address in Dragons Lane, Manningford Bruce Nr Pewsey, Wilts turned up no evidence relating to raptor persecution however a glass jar containing white powder (later identified as Bendiocarb) was found in his vehicle. Watson claimed this was used as an insecticide against wasps and ants while the prosecution stated that it was also known to have been used in other recorded raptor poisoning incidents.

However at this site there was found evidence of multiple firearms offences concerning the safe storage of weapons and ammunition. In particular a Benelli M2 automatic (pump action) shotgun was found to be left unattended and unsecured in his Toyota pickup vehicle, still loaded with 11 shotgun cartridges. Watson was also found to be in possession of two BTO leg rings [from a buzzard and a red kite] which were attached to a keyring. Prosecution stated that to remove these rings from any bird it would have been necessary to break its legs. Watson claimed he had found these rings whilst metal detecting at his Uncle’s farm near Pewsey.

A search of Galteemore Farm in Beckhampton where the well was located found no further evidence of raptor persecution other than the contents of the well. A detailed inspection of the well was conducted under the supervision of the Fire Brigade and in conjunction with the Hampshire Confined Spaces team. It was found to contain the remains of a sheep, 9 bird skulls, multiple bird carcasses and an unidentified mammal skull’. 

[Examination of the carcasses as they were exhumed from the well. Photo by Guy Shorrock/RSPB]

Watson maintained at interview that he had not killed the birds but had simply used the well to dispose of carcasses he had ‘found’ whilst conducting his duties as gamekeeper. One of those function was to “keep the site clear” of such remains. He claimed to have found one of the buzzards on the A4 main road but had for some unspecified reason seen fit to dispose of it in the well. 

The prosecution provided witness testimony from a local wildlife expert that suggested it was highly unlikely to find such a high number of dead raptors over a relatively small area of open farmland where the birds had died of natural causes. Starvation was cited as one reason such birds may die and possibly only two such cases could be expected per annum. An impact statement was read out from a Mr Shorrock from the RSPB who said that there had been a serious problem with raptor persecution in the area. Forensic analysis of several of the bird carcasses found evidence of metal fragments.

As the charges for killing the birds had already been dropped due to lack of direct evidence Watson was the person responsible, it was also agreed that there was no case to answer on animal cruelty by Watson, which could have incurred an 18 week custodial sentence.

The defence argued for leniency on the grounds of it being Watson’s first (indicted) offence, previous ‘good character’ and that the length of time between the offences (2 years) had given him time to reflect on his actions and that he had “learnt his lesson”. It was stated that Watson had left school at 16 and been apprenticed as a gamekeeper sometime thereafter. He was 19 at the time of the offences and accepts that he had become ‘complacent’ around the proper use and care of the firearms. His firearms certificates had been revoked and whilst the court could apply for the destruction of the weapons it had not done so.

It was stated that clearly others had been using the well to dispose of carcasses and had been caught on video but were not identified in this case. The defence suggested that the custodial threshold had not been met because of these factors. The defence suggested that the risk of reoffending was “low” and that there was no evidence of further offending.

The Magistrates asked for clarifications on whether there was public access to the farmland? Watson suggested it was accessible only by a private driveway and was fenced but it was clear he was referring only to the immediate environs of the farm buildings and later stated that the entire holding was c.1000 acres. On a further supplementary question from the magistrates it was revealed that there is public access to the land and that it is adjacent to the historic monument of Avebury which attracts up to a quarter of a million visitors a year. These questions related specifically to the issue of firearms safety.

It was also asked why Watson had not reported finding the BTO leg rings to the appropriate authorities or even the BTO themselves to which the defence only replied that there was “no statutory obligation to report” this. It was also made clear that the number of birds Watson was being charged with being in possession of was reduced to 5 buzzards, 3 Red Kites and the Gull. No explanation was given for this.

At sentencing the Magistrates gave Watson credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity and had therefore spared the public the time and cost of a trial. They regarded the firearms offences as being particularly serious and a combined sentence for all the offences combined was given as 180 hour unpaid community service plus costs of £393 plus a £95 surcharge for the forensic analysis of the bird carcasses. Watson was then referred to the Probation officer within the court before being allowed to leave the premises’.

ENDS

There’s so much to say about this case. First of all, full credit is due to the multi-agency investigation team who had to go to extraordinary lengths to retrieve the evidence. Their level of commitment was exemplary.

Second, this case illustrates in grim detail the lengths that those who kill birds of prey will go to hide the evidence of their crimes. Had it not been for a tip off by a member of the public, raptor-killing on this pheasant shoot would no doubt still be continuing, at huge cost to local raptor populations.

The defendant’s explanation for what was uncovered was so implausible that it’s laughable, but it’s no laughing matter and again, goes to highlight how difficult it is to secure a conviction, even with the level of evidence amassed in this case.

Watson’s sentence was derisory. It’s what we’ve come to expect, even though the number of corpses involved in this case make it the biggest raptor persecution investigation in England to date.

It’s not known whether Archie Watson was a member of the National Gamekeepers Organisation or BASC, as other recently-convicted gamekeepers have been, but to date neither organisation has bothered to issue a statement to condemn Watson’s crimes. How telling.

The blog reader who attended court also said this:

Also, I think he pleaded guilty on advice because they knew he’d have to answer difficult questions under oath on the stand that may have led to identifying who else was involved. And who was paying for his defence costs and the fine?

I asked him some of these questions outside the court with my GoPro on but the b@stard SD card wasn’t in properly and no recordings came through. He didn’t answer anyway but he was smirking and laughing with his mates as they went to their pickup’.

Some of the forensics work in this case, undertaken by the Natural History Museum at Tring, was funded by Wild Justice’s Raptor Forensics Fund, established in 2020 to help support police investigations into alleged raptor persecution crime. Thank you to all those who have contributed to this fund. The court ordered Watson to pay back the costs (£288).

Dorset Police’s generic FoI response on poisoned eagle investigation is inaccurate and unsatisfactory

Earlier this morning I mentioned (here) that yesterday, Dorset Police had finally got around to responding to some Freedom of Information requests made to them by members of the public about the premature closing of the investigation into the poisoned white-tailed eagle found on a shooting estate in January 2022.

I said that the responses that I’d seen (the ones that had been forwarded to me by blog readers – thank you) seemed to be a cut and paste job, just repeating the rhetoric that the investigation was ‘full and proportionate’ (no, it was neither of these things) and that the post mortem results were ‘inconclusive’ (no, the pm report revealed the eagle’s liver contained 7 x the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum, which can only be a result of (a) mis-use of the rodenticide or (b) deliberate abuse of the rodenticide. Either way, these are both offences).

I thought it’d be useful to publish the generic response so you can see how Dorset Police is dodging specific questions and at one point, denying that political interference was even a prospect (er, even though we all read MP Chris Loder’s tweets, suggesting the police shouldn’t be investigating this crime!). This is highlighted in red below:

I’m looking forward to receiving Dorset Police’s response to my request for a review of their decision to refuse my FoI original request made on 4th March 2022 (that response is now two weeks overdue), and also a response to my most recent FoI request to Dorset Police, which was due yesterday:

Premature closure of poisoned eagle investigation was ‘proportionate’ claims Dorset Chief Constable

Yesterday evening Dorset Police held an hour-long live web chat on Facebook offering the public an opportunity to put questions to Chief Constable Scott Chilton and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) David Sidwick.

Many thanks to all those who posed questions about Dorset Police’s unfathomable decision to prematurely close the investigation into the death of the white-tailed eagle found poisoned on an unnamed shooting estate in January this year.

To their credit, the Chief Constable and the PCC took two questions on this subject but I’m afraid their answers were unconvincing and simply a repeat of the damage limitation exercise they undertook last month (here).

The Chief Constable maintained that the decision to close the investigation without first conducting a search of the estate to look for evidence of potential criminality was ‘proportionate’. He also said that following complaints, he’d asked a senior detective to review the case and he, too, had determined that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ and ‘no outstanding lines of enquiry’ to progress the case. Well of course, if you fail to conduct a search you’re not going to find any evidence, are you? It’s simply bonkers.

Both the Chief Constable and the PCC were adamant that undue political interference did not take place. “Absolutely not true“, said Chief Constable Chilton, and “No credibility to that whatsoever“, said PCC David Sidwick.

You can watch a recording of the chat here. The two questions about wildlife crime and the poisoned eagle are at 28.35 and 33.17 mins.

[The poisoned white-tailed eagle found dead on an unnamed shooting estate in Dorset in January 2022. Photo by Dorset Police]

Yesterday also saw the release of a number of FoI responses from Dorset Police (although not mine – that’s still way overdue) and the ones that some blog readers have shared with me seem to be a cut and paste job, just repeating this line:

As a result of the sea eagle being found dead on land in the North Dorset area, our team has carried out a full and proportionate investigation under Section 1 of the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981 in conjunction with Natural England, National Wildlife Crime Unit, the RSPB and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to identify any offences and perpetrators who may be responsible‘.

But that’s just not true. The RSPB has questioned the decision to close the investigation without undertaking the pre-planned investigation, and called the decision ‘completely baffling’ (here).

There’s still much, much more to come out about this case. For reasons that will become clear, I need to wait until the end of the week to publish some of it.

For a full list of previous blogs on this case please see here and scroll to the bottom.

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