Almost all investigators have unsolved cases that come back to haunt them. In policing, whether wildlife crime or crime in general, the identity of the person (or group) committing the offence is generally known to the officer, albeit there may be insufficient proof to report the case for prosecution. The investigations that frustrated me, and that I thought about regularly, were those where I had not a clue who was responsible. One such case was the ‘Pitlivie Badger case’.
Pitlivie is a farm, part of Panmure Estate near the town of Carnoustie, Angus. The incident took place in a wood near to Pitlivie farm and was discovered in March 2007 by a person interested in badgers who was checking on a sett in the woodland. This is how many badger-related incidents are discovered and reported to the police and I have always been thankful for specialist groups, be their interest badgers, butterflies, beavers (which we have in large numbers in Tayside) or birds of prey.
When the incident was reported I attended with PC John Robertson, one of the divisional wildlife crime officers. We saw that the mystery person had set a fox snare in a run-through he had created between a large tree and some bushes. The bones of a dead animal of some sort were in the run-through, though whether the animal had died there or the bones had been placed there was hard to say; I suspected the latter. It was also impossible to say whether the snare had been set for a fox or a badger, though either would be tempted to investigate the bones. An animal had been caught and, due to the earth scattered and scraped in the area, had clearly struggled for some time, eventually breaking the snare.
We examined the area beside the broken snare carefully, but nothing of evidential value was found. We then searched the wider area and discovered a substantial badger sett near the snare in one direction. In the other direction was an outlying sett with a dead badger lying nearby. The badger had a broken fox snare round its waist. This is the position of the snare so often found when badgers are caught and of course it gives them increased pulling power in their struggle to get free. It also cuts into the muscle on either side of the back and can even open up the skin on the stomach, exposing the gut. Either way the badger is unlikely to survive.
We turned the badger over and it was clear it had been lying there dead for some time, probably, given the time of year, at least a couple of weeks. No other snares were found in the area, making the probability of a badger as the target more likely since snares set by gamekeepers for foxes are normally set in lines or batches.
PC John Robertson continued the investigation, interviewing folks residing near the woodland, on the farm, on the estate and of the forestry agency responsible for the woodland but learned nothing more about the incident. A press release also drew a blank. This was an area we had never in the past had any wildlife crime reported and so far as I know, nothing since. A really frustrating case and one which, as I said at the start, still haunts and frustrates me.