I managed to get time this morning to read the RSPB Birdcrime 2015 report (which shows that some folk can be busy even when retired). I can’t say I was impressed by the new format, the main reason being that any time I tried to open one of the links to Legal Eagle it was going to take forever to reveal the contents. This may be OK for folks with good broadband connections but many of us in the backwoods still have broadband that operates at a snail’s pace.
Having said that, the report showed that raptor persecution had barely slackened. As expected, the areas of driven grouse moors were demonstrably the worst. In relation to reported incidents of raptor persecution, Lancashire had 19, North Yorkshire, 40, Scottish Borders 20, Tayside 27, Grampian 23 and Highland 39. These six areas of the UK, all areas of driven grouse moors, had 170 incidents out of a UK total of 519.
I had been aware of the two goshawk incidents in the Peak District in 2013 and 2015 when men appeared at active goshawk nests in the middle of the night, and also in what appeared to be conditions of heavy rain. In the 2013 incident three of the first names of the men were known as they were heard speaking to each other. Since their motive is most likely to have been to get rid of goshawks that might cause them problems with game birds (they’d be no problem to a farmer) they are unlikely to have travelled far to the nest and through a combination of criminal intelligence and the use of the details in the firearm licensing department of the local police force I would have thought they should have been identified. Maybe they were of course but there may have been nothing at the scene to link them apart from a combination of names. They were just black shadows in the video though I wonder if voice recognition may have been possible. Crime intelligence is only of value if there has been a relevant input, which is often a failure of police officers and conservationists alike. The tree had been climbed, and according to French forensic scientist and criminologist Sir Edmund Locard every contact leaves a trace. However halfway up a tree is not the easiest place to carry out a scene of crime examination.
In the second incident four shots were fired, presumably into the nest. The men were seen scouring the area underneath, presumably to remove any evidence of dead birds of cartridge cases.
The two cases demonstrate how difficult it is to show that a crime against birds of prey has been committed and reinforce the view that the crimes discovered are indeed only the tip of the iceberg.
I picked up a case in the report that I had missed at the time. In February, 2015 a gamekeeper, Neil Gordon Wainwright of Norbury, Shropshire pleaded guilty to two pesticide offences and the insecure storage of ammunition. He was fined £500 with £115 costs. The circumstances leading to this were that RSPB Investigations staff had found a trap baited with two live quails next to a pheasant pen on land keepered by Wainwright. They installed surveillance cameras, which recorded Wainwright checking the trap, which was of the type typically used to catch hawks. The evidence was passed to West Mercia Police and in a subsequent search by police assisted by RSPB the trap and quails were recovered. Wainwright was later interviewed by a West Mercia police officer and an investigation support officer from NWCU. He admitted having set the trap but claimed he was trying to catch rats, stoats and mink. What utter tripe!
During the trial, with experts from RSPB Investigations and NWCU available, I don’t think there would have been any difficulty in proving the trap was set for hawks. Nor would there have been any difficulty for specialist avian vet Neil Forbes in proving that there was a welfare issue in relation to the two quails in the trap.
Following legal submissions about the admissibility of the RSPB video evidence the district judge ruled that the surveillance evidence was disproportionate in this case and dismissed the three related charges. I suspect he did that reluctantly since he ordered Wainwright to cover his own legal costs, telling him he had brought the prosecution upon himself.
This is the second case that has failed due to the archaic term in England of ‘trespassers’. The judge said said even when ‘trespassers’ acted with the best motives, that did not allow their conduct to be ‘unfettered’. There may have been another option to identify the criminal, which I’ll not publish but will discuss with RSPB Investigations.
In the various appendices to the 2015 report I see there are several pesticide abuse cases being investigated by Police Scotland where the type of pesticide has been withheld. In Scotland the police have three years from the date of the offence to get a case to the procurator fiscal (obviously less a few months for the fiscal to prepare the case for court). It is common in the investigation of any crime not to put specialist knowledge that only the person committing the crime may have into the public domain. In this respect it does not surprise me that pesticide details have been withheld. I am a bit surprised however that there are no details at all of four incidents; neither listing the species involved nor the area of Scotland in which the incident took place.
I like good mysteries….but only if I can solve them!