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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conviction of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud: statement from Norfolk Constabulary

Following yesterday’s news that 46-year-old gamekeeper Matthew Stroud had been convicted, amongst other things, of shooting and poisoning at least five buzzards and a goshawk on a pheasant shoot in Norfolk (see here), Norfolk Constabulary has issued a press statement which provides a bit more detail about the case.

[One the buzzards that gamekeeper Matthew Stroud shot dead]

Press release from Norfolk Constabulary:

Gamekeeper admits killing birds of prey

A Weeting gamekeeper appeared in court today (Wednesday 5 October 2022) and admitted shooting and poisoning several birds of prey.

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

He received a 12-month Community Order and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, fined £692 and ordered to pay costs of £145, compensation of £288.72 and a victim surcharge of £95. The court also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of all Stroud’s firearms, mobile phones and any chemicals.

The court heard how the investigation started when RSPB officers found a young pheasant dead in Belvedere Wood, Weeting, on 19 August 2021. Tests later confirmed the pheasant had been poisoned with Strychnine Hydrochloride.

Further intelligence led Norfolk Police to execute a warrant at Stroud’s home, Belvedere Wood and Oisier Carr Wood on 14 September 2021 where the following discoveries were made:

  • Three dead buzzards were found at two release pens in Oisier Carr Wood. Tests later confirmed they had been shot.
  • Two pheasant carcasses with extremely high levels of Strychnine Hydrochloride and a poisoned Common Buzzard were found in Belvedere Wood – a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its internationally important population of Stone Curlews
  • Two bottles of Strychnine Chloride were found in the glovebox of Stroud’s all-terrain vehicle, and a bottle of Phostoxin discovered by officers in a lean-too style shed attached to his house.

In addition, Stroud’s mobile phone contained photos of a dead Goshawk and five dead Common Buzzards. He later confessed to officers that all the photos were of birds he had killed.

PC Chris Shelley, Norfolk Constabulary’s Rural Crime Officer, said: “This investigation is one of the biggest cases of its kind that we have dealt with in Norfolk.

Stroud actions were dangerous and inhumane – he shot and poisoned birds of prey as he saw fit, and at will, because it suited him to do so. He also used a highly dangerous poison – one that has been banned in the UK for the last 15 years – indiscriminately, which could have had a disastrous effect on other local wildlife and showed a scant disregard for the safety of others.

We’re committed to working with all partners to tackle rural crime and have worked closely with colleagues from the RSPB, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Natural England throughout this investigation. It is because of this close collaboration with them that we have been able to bring this case to court.

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “Laying poison baits out in the open is not only illegal but extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Baits like those being used present a deadly risk to any animal or person that might come across it.

It is particularly troubling that this was happening on an SPA, a designated area where wildlife and nature should have the highest legal protection.

We would like to thank Norfolk Police for leading such a thorough investigation, and to Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Crown Prosecution Service for their support.”

Ashley Petchey of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “This was a case where Mr Stroud has, whilst in his position as a gamekeeper, killed wild birds by shooting and poisoning. He has also released non-native species into a SSSI.  

The scale of the offences in this case demonstrates the lengths people will go to in order to persecute raptors.   

The Crown take all cases of raptor persecution seriously and where the full code test is met, bring offenders to justice.”

ENDS

UPDATE 4th November 2022: RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper Matthew Stroud (here)

Norfolk gamekeeper convicted after shooting & poisoning multiple birds of prey

Press release from the RSPB today (5th October 2022):

Gamekeeper escapes jail after killing birds of prey

*Six buzzards and a goshawk were found illegally killed on a gamebird shoot near Thetford, along with lethal poison baits.

*Gamekeeper Matthew Stroud pleads guilty to multiple offences

*The RSPB is increasingly concerned about raptor persecution linked to pheasant and partridge shoots, and the impact of large-scale gamebirds releases.

Today (5 October 2022) at Norwich Magistrates’ court, gamekeeper Matthew Stroud received a 200 hour community order and was fined £692 for offences connected with raptor persecution. Stroud was ordered to pay £145 costs, £288.72 compensation and a £95 victim surcharge.

[Convicted criminal gamekeeper Matthew Stroud and one of his victims, a shot buzzard. Photos via RSPB and Eastern Daily Press]

Offences included shooting five buzzards and one goshawk, the poisoning of another buzzard, the laying of poison baits and illegal possession of poisons including strychnine.

Stroud also became the first person convicted for the unauthorised release of gamebirds on a Special Protection Area (SPA) – an internationally important site for conservation under the Habitats Regulations.

[Another of Stroud’s victims – he shot this goshawk. Photo via RSPB]

[Two containers of the banned poison strychnine found in the glovebox of Stroud’s all-terrain vehicle]

Sentencing Stroud, Magistrates said that he was lucky to escape jail today.

The court heard from the defence that Stroud was under pressure to produce game birds for the shoot after two poor years, that he had taken no pleasure in killing the buzzards and that he should have been informed that the law had changed around pheasant releases.

This is one of many incidents of raptor persecution identified on lowland pheasant and partridge shoots, which the RSPB says is an area of increasing concern. There is also evidence that large-scale releases of pheasant and partridge for shooting is having a detrimental impact on native wildlife.

The RSPB Investigations team conducted lengthy enquiries on an area of land managed by Stroud for pheasant shooting at Fengate Farm in Weeting, within the Breckland SPA. Following a number of visits, on 19 August 2021 they discovered a pheasant carcass – later found to contain the banned toxic chemical strychnine. The use of a poison bait such as a pheasant, laced with pesticides, is one of the most common methods of illegally killing birds of prey.

A subsequent search with Norfolk Police and partners uncovered further poison baits plus shot and poisoned raptors. Stroud’s phone also contained the photo of a goshawk and several buzzards which he admitted to shooting. They also found the deadly banned poison strychnine and phostoxin, a dangerous fumigant which was stored improperly.

In 2021 it became illegal to release gamebirds on or adjacent to an SPA without a licence, which Stroud had not sought, making him the first person to be prosecuted and convicted for this offence.

In 2020, Wild Justice issued proceedings in the High Court challenging the annual release of millions of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges into the countryside and their potential impact on sites designated for nature conservation. DEFRA conceded the case and introduced General Licence 43 in an attempt to ensure that the impacts of those birds on those sites would be regulated.

Mark Thomas Head of RSPB Investigations UK, said:

It is difficult not to be disappointed with the outcome today considering the significance of the offences and combined efforts of the agencies involved. Laying poison baits out in the open is not only illegal but extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Baits like those being used at Fengate Farm present a deadly risk to any animal or person that might come across it. It is particularly troubling that this was happening on an SPA, a designated area where wildlife and nature should have the highest legal protection.

The RSPB’s most recent Birdcrime report in 2020 made clear that raptor persecution is not just an issue confined to grouse shooting estates: it is increasingly correlated with pheasant and partridge shoots.”

Mark added: “We would like to thank Norfolk Police for leading such a thorough investigation, and to Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Crown Prosecution Service for their support”.

Guilty pleas were entered to the following charges:

· Six charges in relation to killing of six different buzzards (five by shooting and one poisoned) during August and September 2021

· One charge in relation to killing a goshawk listed under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 in August 2021

· Three charges in relation to laying poison baits in August and September 2021

· One charges in relation to the possession of the banned pesticide, strychnine in September 2021

· A charge in relation to a firearm being an item capable of committing an offence in September 2021

· A charge in relation to the usage of the chemical phostoxin in September 2021

· One charge in relation to releasing pheasants illegally during 2022

ENDS

UPDATE 6th October 2022: Conviction of gamekeeper Matthew Stroud – statement from Norfolk Constabulary (here)

UPDATE 4th November 2022: RSPB Investigations Officer reflects on conviction of Norfolk raptor-killing gamekeeper, Matthew Stroud (here)

Goshawk monitoring in Scottish highlands features on BBC Landward

The BBC’s Landward programme last week included a six minute feature on goshawk monitoring in the Scottish highlands.

Presenter Rosie Morton accompanied Dave Pierce and Brian Etheridge, two long-standing members of the Highland Raptor Study Group, to a goshawk nest to ring three chicks.

The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer (here) for 11 months. Starts at 1.27 min and ends at 7.00 min.

Goshawk nest attacked in Peak District National Park – Derbyshire Police appeal for information

An appeal for information by Derbyshire Police’s Rural Crime Team (21st August 2022):

‘Back in June this year a larch tree at Westend in the Upper Derwent Valley which was home to a pair of goshawks was found to have been interfered with. Sadly, the birds abandoned the site and it was discovered that the tree had drilled holes and bolts all the way up it which we believe to be evidence of how the nest had been accessed. A local ornithologist had confirmed the presence of eggs in the nest prior to all this but had then found the be no longer there.

[A goshawk nest, photo by Archant]

With help from Forestry England staff a forensic examination was carried out on the tree and items were submitted to the lab.

We are appealing to anyone who may be able to provide information to help with this enquiry.

Thank you‘.

ENDS

[Photo of the forensic examination of the goshawk’s nest tree. Photo by Derbyshire Police]

Goshawks in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park have been the target of relentless illegal persecution for decades, along with a number of other raptor species including peregrine and hen harrier (the most recent incident reported earlier this summer – here).

The majority of these crimes have been linked to driven grouse shooting. For new blog readers, the following reports and scientific papers provide good background evidence:

GWCT disregards police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on Van Cutsem’s Norfolk estate

Last week I wrote about how former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, and landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates had shown complete disregard for the sanction imposed on Moy Estate after raptor persecution crimes had been recorded there (see here).

This week it’s the turn of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to seemingly turn a blind eye.

Have a look at this event currently being promoted on GWCT’s website:

Regular readers will know that Hilborough House is the home of William van Cutsem. In May this year, police raided the estate after video footage emerged of alleged raptor persecution.

The footage, captured on a secret camera installed by the Hunt Investigation Team, appeared to show a crow cage trap in woodland alleged to be on the Hilborough Estate. The trap had been baited with live pigeons (this is an offence) and a young goshawk was attracted to the bait, entered the trap and then couldn’t escape. A masked man is then recorded entering the trap, pinning the goshawk to the side netting with a stick so he could grab the bird, and then removing it from the trap and walking away with it (also an offence). The goshawk’s fate is not shown.

As far as I’m aware, the police investigation is ongoing.

Mr Van Cutsem hasn’t commented publicly about this investigation although in a classic attempt at diversion, the Mail on Sunday ran a piece quoting ‘an unnamed source close to Mr van Cutsem’ who questioned the relationship between the Hunt Investigation Team and the RSPB:

What also is interesting is how close HIT works with the RSPB. It would be good to understand how a mainstream charity is working with a shady group’. 

Oh the irony!

General Licence restriction imposed on Moy, a grouse-shooting estate, after discovery of poisoned red kite

Press release from NatureScot, 21st June 2022:

General Licence restricted on Highland estate

NatureScot has restricted the use of General Licences on Moy Estate for three years

The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

This evidence included a poisoned red kite found on the estate in 2020, and incidents in relation to trapping offences.

[Red kite. Photographer unknown]

Donald Fraser, NatureScot’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “We consider the information from Police Scotland provides robust evidence that wild birds have been killed or taken or there has been intention to do so illegally on this land.

“Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the use of general licences on this property for three years until June 2025. They may still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“NatureScot is committed to using all the tools we have available to tackle wildlife crime. This measure will help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, although under tighter supervision.

“We believe this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime. We will continue to work closely with Police Scotland and consider information they provide on cases which may warrant restricting general licences.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out control of common species of wild birds, such as crows and magpies, to protect crops or livestock, without the need to apply for an individual licence.

In addition to this restriction, there are currently three other restrictions in place on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Lochan Estate in Perthshire and Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire.

ENDS

The restriction notice reads as follows:

In line with NatureScot’s published General Licence restrictions: Framework for Implementing Restrictions we hereby give notice that a restriction has been applied to the land outlined in red overleaf. This restriction prohibits the use of General Licences 01, 02 and 03 on that land between 21st June 2022 and 21st June 2025.

Please note that this restriction does not imply responsibility for the commission of crimes on any individuals.

This one has been a long time coming. Moy is one of those estates where if its name comes up in conversation amongst raptor conservationists in Scotland, eyes tend to roll and knowing looks are exchanged. It has been identified as a raptor persecution hotspot for many, many years.

Here is a map we created way back in 2016 to highlight the extent of raptor persecution crimes in former Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s constituency (given his strong support of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association) and this shows the concentration of incidents on and close to Moy Estate:

Here is a selection of examples, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Moy Estate was raided by police in 2010 after the discovery of poisoned bait and dead raptors and illegally set traps. A gamekeeper was later convicted of possession of a red kite after its bloodied corpse was found in the back of his vehicle. It had two broken legs, consistent with being caught in spring traps, and a head injury. A bloodied shinty stick was also found in the back of the vehicle. Notably, the gamekeeper wasn’t convicted for killing the kite, just for having possession of it. Nobody was charged with killing this kite.

These baited traps were discovered on the moor (the illegally-set spring traps were originally disguised under moss, removed here for evidential purposes). No charges were brought.

The remains of two further red kites were discovered on the moor, including a severed red kite leg and some wing tags that had previously been fitted to a kite, all found buried in holes under some moss. No charges were brought.

A jar in one of the gamekeeper’s houses contained the leg rings of four young golden eagles – nobody could account for how they had ended up inside that jar. Perhaps he’d found them whilst ‘metal detecting at his uncle’s farm’ like gamekeeper Archie Watson, who recently gave this implausible explanation to the court for how he’d come to possess BTO leg rings from a buzzard and a red kite attached to his keyring.

This male hen harrier was found caught by its leg in an illegally-set spring trap on Moy Estate in 2010. No charges were brought. It survived after being rescued by raptor workers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

In May 2011 a satellite-tracked red kite ‘disappeared’ on Moy, and another one ‘disappeared’ in August 2011.

In 2016 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information following the discovery of disturbed and abandoned buzzard and goshawk nests in the Moy Forest. One goshawk and four buzzard nests were abandoned in suspicious circumstances, with some evidence of illegal disturbance. These nests were being monitored by staff from Forestry Enterprise Scotland (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2017 masked gunmen were caught on camera at a goshawk nest in Moy Forest. A few days later the nest and a clutch of four eggs was found abandoned (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2018 Police Scotland issued an appeal for information after a buzzard was found caught in an illegal pole trap in the Moy area (see here). No charges were brought.

In 2020 a poisoned red kite was found dead, containing traces of a banned pesticide, leading to a police appeal for information (here).

In 2021 an individual was charged with the alleged killing of a bird of prey in this area. This case is believed to be progressing through the courts so I can’t comment further at this stage.

Of course, a General Licence restriction doesn’t amount to much of a sanction in real terms, as I’ve discussed on this blog endless times before (e.g. see here). However, it’s currently the only tool available to the authorities until we finally see the introduction of the promised grouse moor licensing scheme by the Scottish Government. Had that scheme been in place already, we’d hopefully have seen the removal of Moy Estate’s licence to shoot for a number of years, if not permanently.

Meanwhile, what will be really interesting to see is whether the Moy Game Fair goes ahead this year, given that the shooting organisations have all claimed to have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to raptor persecution. I don’t think the likes of Scottish Land & Estates, Fergus Ewing MSP and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association can expect anything other than high-level criticism if they attend this event on an estate that has now been sanctioned for wildlife crimes by the statutory nature conservation advisor, based on e

Evidence provided by Police Scotland. Mind you, the conviction of a gamekeeper on Moy Estate in 2011 didn’t stop them attending (see here and here).

UPDATE 14th July 2022: Scottish Gamekeepers Association plans award ceremony at disgraced Moy Estate (here)

UPDATE 6th August 2022: Fergus Ewing MSP & his shooting industry pals disregard sanctions imposed on Moy Estate for wildlife crime (here)

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

Mail on Sunday blames ‘vigilantes’ for police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on Van Cutsem’s estate

The police investigation of alleged raptor persecution and associated wildlife crime at William van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk is being kept in the public eye thanks to the Mail on Sunday (MOS).

However, instead of claiming that [Police] ‘Officers found no evidence of wrong-doing‘ [on van Cutsem’s estate] which is what the MOS published the previous weekend (here), this time they’re focusing on the ‘animal rights vigilantes’ who had secretly filmed the alleged offences on the estate and then passed on their footage to the police.

The full article can be read here.

It’s classic tabloid nonsense, designed to take the focus off the alleged offences and undermine the credibility of the people who discovered those alleged offences.

The article quotes ‘a source close to Mr van Cutsem‘ throughout, but conveniently doesn’t name that source. Quotes from this unidentified source include:

A source close to Mr van Cutsem condemned HIT as a vigilante group which had set up cameras on private land without his permission, saying there were questions about its relationship with police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds‘.

and

William is baffled the police didn’t say anything or give him any information and he had to read about it [on their Twitter page],’ said the source.

and

‘What also is interesting is how close HIT works with the RSPB. It would be good to understand how a mainstream charity is working with a shady group. Police said nothing.’

and

The source added: ‘William doesn’t want to say anything else at this stage, but needless to say it’s bonkers that the first he finds out about details was not from the police but from the HIT story’. 

The same weekend this happened, a neighbouring estate had four traps vandalised and a buzzard was found in another one, which was then released by the estate owner. 

These were all reported to the police. I’m also surprised the RSPB, who attended the raid, seem to be getting information from a group with a long history of shady entrapments.

Interesting then that ‘the source’ didn’t apparently raise any concerns about what had been filmed, just who had filmed it and whether they had permission to do so.

This sort of commentary is a tried and tested routine, and one we’ve seen over and over again from the likes of You Forgot the Birds and C4PMC, even down to the slagging off of the RSPB. This is not quality journalism, it’s just laughable bollocks, designed to deflect attention from the alleged crimes filmed on this estate.

I particularly enjoyed the MOS’s sub-heading in this article:

They [that’ll be the so-called vigilantes] released a video purporting to show a Goshawk stuck in a trap on the estate‘.

Er, I think it was a bit more than showing ‘a goshawk stuck in a trap’! What the video actually showed was a masked man removing a goshawk from an illegally-set trap (baited with live pigeons) purportedly filmed on van Cutsem’s estate. The man was then filmed carrying the goshawk away, which is also an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (the goshawk should have been immediately released).

Thanks for the laugh, MOS, and especially for the crap reporting which will just draw this police investigation to the attention of an even larger audience.

I look forward to reading an update from Norfolk Police in due course.

Covert video footage published showing masked man with trapped goshawk on van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate

Yet more evidence has emerged about the police investigation into alleged raptor persecution on William van Cutsem’s Hilborough Estate in Norfolk (see here, here, here for previous blogs).

Last night, the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT), a group describing itself as ‘anti-bloodsports’, published covert video footage it claims was filmed on van Cutsem’s estate. The footage shows a crow cage trap in woodland, the trap had been baited with live pigeons (this is an offence) and a young goshawk was attracted to the bait, entered the trap and then couldn’t escape. A masked man is then recorded entering the trap, pinning the goshawk to the side netting with a stick so he could grab the bird, and then removing it from the trap and walking away with it (also an offence). The goshawk’s fate is not shown.

[Screen grab from the HIT covert footage]

The video can be watched on YouTube here.

There are concerns amongst some conservationists, including me, that releasing this footage at this stage could jeopardise any potential prosecution. This is (was?) an active police investigation, the estate had been searched, police had seized various items and a number of employees are (were?) due to be questioned this week. Norfolk Police were doing a good job by all accounts and there wasn’t any reason to question their commitment to the investigation.

I doubt very much whether Norfolk Police gave their blessing to release this footage at this stage of the investigation.

The HIT team have already published potentially libellous commentary on Twitter (which I won’t repeat here, for obvious reasons) and they said this about releasing the footage at this stage of the investigation:

We do not believe in sitting on evidence for months and years on end, hoping for an unlikely prosecution whilst wildlife is relentlessly killed. People need to know what goes on within shooting estates and to be empowered to act‘.

I do sympathise with this view, and I guess it’s a reflection of the many police failures to investigate allegations of illegal fox-hunting (which is an area in which the HIT team are very experienced) and failures of some police forces to investigate raptor persecution. People get frustrated when the authorities repeatedly refuse to investigate what looks like clear criminal activity, and so they decide to do what they think is right. But from my point of view, with this particular investigation, Norfolk Police had responded well and were actively pursuing enquiries so the premature release of this footage by the HIT team is hard to comprehend. I wish they’d waited a few more days.

It’s out there now though. And the camera is well-positioned and the footage is very clear.

I hope the release hasn’t jeopardised this police investigation by compromising the planned employee interviews. Even if the case does reach court, a top QC (because let’s face it, that’s who would be representing the defendants) would make light work of drawing attention to this footage and the associated commentary and could argue the defendants wouldn’t get a fair trial.

Let’s see what happens.

UPDATE 16th May 2022: Mail on Sunday blames ‘vigilantes’ for police investigation into alleged wildlife crime on van Cutsem’s estate (here)

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