Deer poachers on the Isle of Mull

Poached red deer at a venison dealer's premises

Poached red deer at a venison dealer’s premises

Trying to kill red deer with a crossbow is little different from using a shotgun. (photo courtesy of former Northern Constabulary)

Trying to kill red deer with a crossbow is little different from using a shotgun. (photo courtesy of former Northern Constabulary)

I read last week of a number of deer poachers being arrested by the Gardi in Ireland. It put me in mind of a capture for deer poaching that I had in the late 1970s. Many of my better captures came from good intelligence. In this case the informant was Mr X, while one of the poachers happened to be another informant, Big Daddy. The tale is from my first book, Wildlife Detective……….



My next piece of valuable intelligence on deer poaching came from Mr X. Three Perth poachers had branched out from Perthshire and had gone to Mull to take red deer. Mr X gave me their names and the details of the vehicle that they were using, which was a Land Rover. I was particularly interested – though not surprised – that one of the poachers was Big Daddy. It looked like I might have to arrest my informant, but if informants are not closely linked with crime they are unlikely to have the knowledge to be able to regurgitate any worthwhile information. Another of the poachers was Wyllie, the telephone box man (another chapter in the book). The third was a man whom I knew but not for poaching activities. Mr X’s information was that the three had a shotgun with them and were intending to shoot red deer from the roadside. He informed me that in the south-west of the island there were plenty of deer grazing at the roadside and not a house for miles to hear the shots.

After North Uist, Mull is my favourite of the isles to the west of Scotland and I knew what he was telling me was likely to be accurate. As a regular user of a shotgun I was well aware of how unsuitable this weapon would be against red deer, even with the heaviest of ammunition. If they were shooting from the roadside it would be a fair bet that every second deer that they fired at would run off injured and would die a lingering death. Of all the poachers I had caught to date, I wanted these three jailed more than any of the others. Very few informants, unless they are actually taking part know every detail of the crime. Though I prodded and prodded Mr X for more information, especially details of when they would be returning to Perth from Mull, what he had given me seemed to be the limit of his knowledge.

That day my colleague, Iain MacLeod, and I sat on the A85 Crieff to Perth road every spare minute of our shift. So determined were we to catch this crew we sat through our meal break watching car after car going past, our hearts beating just that bit faster every time a Land Rover approached. Perth being a market town, Land Rovers were ten a penny and it’s a wonder we didn’t have heart failure. Both of us were thrawn characters who hated to be beaten and our perseverance paid off in the end. Just after midday a Land Rover passed us, we recognised its occupants as Big Daddy and Co and the chase was on. To call it a chase is an overstatement as the Land Rover stopped immediately we caught up with it and put on our flashing blue light. The Mull mob had met their match.

Big Daddy and the third person – for simplicity I’ll just call him The Third Man – were quiet and polite. Wyllie, on the other hand was arrogant and cocky, but this was exactly his style and what we expected of him. We told them why they were being stopped and our powers under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 entitled us to search them and the vehicle. All five of us then moved round to the rear door of the Land Rover, which I opened slowly in case the deer fell out on to the road. No deer fell out. The Land Rover, apart from some deer hair and blood, was completely empty. A thorough search under the seats and in the receptacles on each side of the vehicle under the window shelf also proved fruitless. Thoughts of a conviction for taking red deer with a shotgun were fading, though we knew from the large amount of money they had in their pockets that the suspects had sold a good number of deer. The National Lottery had not been invented so that could not be proffered as an excuse for the wads of notes in the pockets of three long-term unemployed people.

We had the power to detain the suspects for up to six hours, which was our next step. The three were taken to Perth Police Station and put in cells so that we could continue our enquiries. They had obviously disposed of the deer somewhere between Mull and Perth but I couldn’t think where this could have been. I was banking on them bringing the deer to Perth and trying to sell them to the local game dealer. I would have had the utmost co-operation had that been the case but then they possibly knew with the good reputation of the local game dealer that he would either not accept the deer or turn them in to the police.

In policing it never pays to put all your eggs into one basket, which is exactly what I had done. I had formed my own unsubstantiated opinion of where the deer were destined for sale and had never asked that question of Mr X. I fervently hoped I could make contact with him. Six hours may seem a long time but it’s very short in terms of obtaining enough evidence to secure a conviction. I’ve absolutely no doubt that for a suspect languishing in a cell, wondering how successfully or otherwise police enquiries are progressing, six hours must seem an eternity. For the investigating police officers, who often have to trace witnesses, take statements, make searches, seize productions, interview suspects, six hours passes in a flash. I often envied our colleagues south of the Border who have 24 hours and in some circumstances can ask for an extension. Having said that, I had never once known of a police officer in Scotland running out of time with a suspect. Building a case against the clock is all about good knowledge of the law, prioritisation of those parts of the investigation that will yield sufficient result to obtain a prima facia case that can later be built on, good time management and confident and structured interviews. And of course in this particular case knowing how to make contact with your informant!

I managed to get hold of Mr X again and learned from him that a Dutch game dealer had started a new business on the west side of Crieff, a town west of Perth. His premises could be a possibility for our three suspects to have off-loaded the deer. That was definitely to be our next stop.

Mr X had come up with the goods again. The Dutchman admitted buying two loads of deer delivered by Land Rover in the last three days. We asked to inspect his venison register, which gave us a Mickey Mouse name and address for the seller of the two consignments but the correct vehicle registration number of the Land Rover. We then asked to see the sales slips, which showed us the weight of the deer sold, the price the dealer paid per pound, and a signature of some name plucked out of the sky to match the fictitious entry in the venison register.

Nineteen deer had been sold in all, and they were still in the game dealer’s cold store. We inspected them and found them to be a mixture of stags and hinds, one lot in season and the other out of season since the periods for the legal shooting of different sexes do not overlap. We took possession of all of the deer and arranged for a police van to transport them to a freezing facility in Perth. In the investigation of crimes where animals have been killed, and the manner in which they have been killed is the subject of one of the charges, it is important to retain the carcasses in case the defence disputes the evidence relating to the killing. Even though the defence may not really want to inspect the carcasses, if that opportunity is not available then an otherwise good case can collapse.

We now had exactly what we needed to charge the three suspects. Equally importantly, it would eliminate the smugness and arrogance that Wyllie had been displaying. His gas would be at a peep – a good Scottish phrase evocative of how we wanted him to feel.

Armed with the new evidence, we re-interviewed our suspects and they admitted what they had done. We were then in a position to charge all three with various offences under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959. Relevant charges were taking deer without permission, taking them by means other than shooting them with the proper rifle and ammunition, two or more persons acting together to commit these offences, taking them during the hours of darkness, and taking some of the deer out of season. Only one aspect of the case had still to be sorted out, that of the origin and whereabouts of the shotgun involved.

We knew the strengths and weaknesses of Wyllie, Big Daddy and the Third Man and knew on whom to put pressure to find out about the weapon. In this particular case it would be unprofessional of me to reveal who gave details, but we learned that the shotgun had been stolen from a farm near Perth and that it was presently buried, wrapped in a polythene bag, on a particular hillside on Mull.

I had been in contact with a police sergeant on Mull and passed him the details so that he and his officers could recover the shotgun for us. I had a fairly exact position with several landmarks and was of the view that its recovery would take a fairly short time.

Several hours later there was still no telephone call from the sergeant and I was anxious to know that the gun was safely in the hands of the police. In some circumstances, when I am carrying out a particular task myself, I have great patience. The opposite is the case when I am relying on someone else to do a job for me. I would much rather have gone to Mull myself for the damn gun but that was out of the question. Exasperated, I telephoned the police station at Salen, where I had last spoken with the sergeant. It was one of the constables who answered and he sounded very excited. I suspected the good news of the recovery of the shotgun but this was not forthcoming.

The reason for the constable’s jubilation was revealed. He gleefully related that the sergeant had slipped while crossing one of the hill burns and had fallen headlong into a deepish pool of black peaty water, probably destined at some stage in its downhill journey to become an ingredient of Tobermory or Ledaig malt whisky. It was obvious that the constable had a good day out. And the shotgun? ‘Oh aye, we got that awright.’ It must have been the first occasion when the recovery of a shotgun was the second prize.

Wyllie, Big Daddy and the Third man got the booby prize. All were jailed for their episode on Mull.

See Wildlife Detective and other books on this blog. If you would like a signed copy contact me on

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