In the Sunday Post yesterday there was a report of a 63 year-old woman being charged by police after releasing a fox from a snare. The circumstances reported were that earlier in the year she was walking in the Pentland Hills in West Lothian when she found the fox caught by the waist in a snare. She felt sorry for the fox and is quoted as saying,
“I had presumed these barbaric things were illegal and did what most people would have done”.
“I called the Scottish SPCA and they asked me to give the snare to them.”
It seems that SSPCA then investigated the legality of the snare’s use.
The police had learned of the incident, though it is not clear from the news report when this was or if they were aware another organisation was already involved in the investigation. Police officers called on the woman, allegedly at 10.30 pm, and charged her with theft of the snare.
From the details of the news report there is nothing to suggest that the snare was other than set legally, even though the victim was caught round the middle. The report states that ‘(the law) limits where (snares) can be placed and how animals are caught, with many experts interpreting the law to rule out foxes being trapped round the abdomen’. This wouldn’t be my interpretation of the law, though ultimately the decision would be up to the prosecutor and/or a court.
In any event neither the police nor SSPCA considered a report to the procurator fiscal for the illegal setting of the snare, though the police considered the offence of theft of the snare had taken place.
To prove a theft, there needs to be mens rea. The legal definition of mens rea is ‘an element of criminal responsibility, a guilty mind; a guilty or wrongful purpose; a criminal intent: guilty knowledge or wilfulness.’ In other words a suspect needs to be aware that his or her conduct is criminal. I doubt that this could be proved in this incident. The inclination of nearly everyone who walks in the country and finds an animal trapped would be to release it. There may be nothing illegal about the capture of the animal but human nature, in most cases, would be to feel pity for it and to try to relieve its suffering. It is highly likely that this was what was going through the woman’s mind, plus it is hardly likely that a person who is aware of her guilt would hand over the evidence most likely to prove that guilt.
Unless there is anything outwith the news report of which I am not aware, I think this was a flawed judgement by the police officer to charge the woman. I think it is also an unreasonable time of night to call on anyone, with a few exceptions such as by prior arrangement, to deliver an urgent message or if the person has committed a serious offence. The reaction seems to have been out of proportion to the incident. Thankfully the charge was withdrawn, though not before the woman had an extensive period of worry.
I was amazed, though, that a woman on her own managed to get a fox out of a snare.
I was also amazed at the quote attributed to the spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. He said: “These devices are set by trained professionals for a legitimate legal purpose – to protect vulnerable ground-nesting species from abundant predators such as foxes”. Snares can only be legitimately set to catch foxes, brown hares and rabbits. Brown hares and rabbits are not predators. I leave the interpretation of ‘such as’ to the reader, though it may simply be a Freudian slip.