Should keepers report rogue employers to police?

Poisoned buzzard found on Perthshire shooting estate in 2009

Poisoned buzzard found on Perthshire shooting estate in 2009

In today’s Courier (8 Jan) there is an article headed ‘Gamekeepers urged to report unscrupulous landowners’. The article is based on an interview with a retired gamekeeper Colin Gair. I know Colin and have great respect for the way he is not afraid to speak his mind publicly.

The article begins, ‘Gamekeepers are being urged to contact police if they are asked by landowners or tenants to use illegal poisons to protect grouse stocks.’ The collection of course should include sporting agents and head gamekeepers, and the term should not only be the use of poisons but include any other method of killing of protected species. In principle this is a sound idea, and if the advice was followed it would immediately have a dramatic effect in reducing wildlife crime committed on grouse moors.

It must be said first of all that not all landowners want their staff to break the law, and I know from personal experience that if the landowner is forceful enough in his or her direction of staff then they take heed. It reverses the risk of being fired for not killing birds of prey to being fired for doing so. I also know of keepers who have sensibly asked what the policy is on birds of prey before they take the job. In effect there are three categories of employer/employee relationship: those employers who direct their employee to break the law; those who expect the law to be broken despite a useless written contract not to do so – in essence a ‘get out of jail free card’ for the employer – and those who will not tolerate the law (or at worst certain parts of the law) to be broken.

In the first category, reporting the illegal instructions of an employer (be it landowner, sporting agent or headkeeper) to the police could result in a prosecution, but normally the instructions are passed on a one to one basis and corroboration of this, still essential in Scotland, could be hard to establish. It may, however, alert the police to a rogue employer of whom they were not formerly aware, though in truth most are already well known. I would bet, though, that the landowner or agent would have in force documentation that would safeguard him against prosecution, and if there is any ‘fall guy’ it would be the gamekeeper. There are (scarce) precedents to whistle-blowing by gamekeepers, and unfortunately much of the game management industry is so defensive against criticism that the whistle-blowers are unlikely to find another gamekeeping job. If game shooting interests are really serious about changing their current negative image then employees reporting management is an area on which they should concentrate, showing support and encouragement rather than exclusion.

In the second category, when law-breaking is promoted by a nod and a wink, there is no evidence against the employer which would ever allow a case to get to court. If the gamekeeper happens to be convicted the employer has been known to pay the fine. Depending on the public outcry and the amount of peer pressure the gamekeeper may have to be sacked. Management is still untouched.

In the last category, which is slowly gathering momentum, there is no need of any reporting to the police since the employee is protected by the employer’s stance. This may be the only category where the gamekeeper can sleep at night free from worry of the police coming to the door with a search warrant.

I have been recommending for years that gamekeepers make contact with the police when they become aware that a neighbour is breaking the law. It has worked in part, with the information given able to be used as intelligence, though seldom where the witness is prepared to give a statement and if need be go to court. But we still have a long way to go. Colin Gair’s suggestion takes this a step further.  If one landowner or sporting agent were to be convicted – and possibly jailed because of their position of authority, plus the fact that human life, not just wildlife, is at risk – that would be the biggest step forward ever taken in this sorry saga.

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