The bludgeoning of two buzzards by Colin Burne, of Winters Park, Penrith, on land managed by a private shooting syndicate in Whinfell Forest, near Penrith, Cumbria, (as reported in the National Wildlife Crime Unit website at http://www.nwcu.police.uk/news/wildlife-crime-press-coverage/cumbria-gamekeeper-pleads-guilty-to-killing-buzzards-illegally/ and the RSPB website at http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/349360-cumbria-gamekeeper-pleads-guilty-to-killing-buzzards illegally?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=News ) must rate as one of the worst wildlife crimes I have seen. Though there have possibly been more brutal crimes, especially in relation to badger baiting, the clinical manner in which this gamekeeper dispatched the two unfortunate buzzards was sickening. It seemed as if this was an everyday occurrence for him. He is 64 and I wondered how many times during his life as a gamekeeper this has taken place. It is something we will never know, but the fact that he pleaded guilty to killing five buzzards prior to this incident tends to suggest that it has been a regular event.
I am sure that the magistrate had been shown the video footage of the incident and was desperate to impose a jail sentence, but it is reported that Burne had ill health, and instead a 70-day jail sentence, concurrent on each of three charges, was imposed, but was suspended for 12 months.
Few wildlife crimes have had as much media coverage as this one. It probably sets back the work of decent gamekeepers and responsible game management organisations as much as has any incident where a bird of prey has been killed or a cache of pesticides recovered. I wouldn’t really expect relevant organisations in Scotland to comment but I looked at the website just now of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, which covers gamekeeping in England and Wales, for condemnation of Burne and his actions. Disappointingly not a word!
This was a case where video footage of the incident was captured by the RSPB, who then reported the matter to Cumbria Police wildlife crime officer PC Helen Felton. RSPB regularly employ the use of covert video surveillance in England but this is a tactic not currently accepted by the courts in Scotland. The environment minister recently announced several measures in Scotland aimed at reducing and dealing more efficiently with crime committed against birds of prey. One paragraph of his announcement was particularly interesting –
The Lord Advocate has instructed the specialist prosecutors in the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit to work with Police Scotland to ensure that law enforcement utilises all investigative tools at their disposal in the fight against wildlife crime.
While this might not necessarily pave the way for NGOs to carry out surveillance I wonder if it means that it might be made easier for police officers to carry out surveillance on private land, something that is currently not available in respect of most wildlife crimes.
Lastly, had vicarious liability been available in England as it is in Scotland, this may well have been an ideal case for the police to investigate those higher up the chain of command.