No court case for Hunt Investigation Team covert snaring surveillance

Masked gamekeeper ‘shooting’ off the snare from a snared badger. Surprising if badger not permanently deafened – if it lives! Photo courtesy of Hunt Investigation Team

I wrote on 11 July 2017 of incidents filmed on Moscar Estate in Derbyshire by the Hunt Investigation Team. This undercover team had filmed a snare that may have been a locking snare and claimed they saw a badger in a snare being shot and buried. Worst of all they filmed a masked gamekeeper with a shotgun trying to shoot a snare off a trapped badger. My concluding sentence at the time was:

If the police manage to put a case to the CPS I’ll watch with interest to see if they and the court accept the covert footage.

(see https://wildlifedetective.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/pest-control-practices-filmed-in-the-peak-district-national-park-analysis/ )

It transpires that in early September the police did manage to prepare a case and send it to the Crown Prosecution Service. The charges are not known though it is highly likely that one of the main charges would be a cruelty charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for discharging a shotgun numerous times right beside the terrified badger’s ear then allowing it to run off with two snares round its neck.

On 1 October 2017 a BBC news report stated that the Crown Prosecution Service decided no charges would be brought. Before looking at possible reasons why, it is worth contemplating the view of the owners of Moscar Estate, the Duke and Duchess of Rutland. The BBC news item reported that they were ‘horrified by the allegations’. Does that mean they were horrified by what was filmed happening to the badger? I bet it doesn’t; the wording used indicates they were horrified that there was an allegation that one of their staff could be suspected of breaking the law.

It is also worth contemplating the quote from a spokesman for the estate: “Endangered birds like curlew and lapwing are flourishing in grouse moors because gamekeepers do such a good job at protecting them from foxes.” Maybe so, but for balance he omitted to say that endangered hen harriers were virtually non-existent on grouse moors because gamekeepers do such a good job of killing them.

Returning to CPS dropping the case, why would this be?

Was it not in the public interest? Surely the answer to that is that it is very much in the public interest. Deliberate cruelty to a trapped animal plus a man wearing a mask and with a shotgun.

Was there insufficient evidence? Hard to say without knowing all the facts, but unlikely. The incidents were filmed and the film most likely showed a time and date. It is also unlikely that there was only one observer, since it would be risky for the Hunt Investigation Team only to field one person for a job in the middle of moorland and where firearms may be a factor. There may well therefore have been corroboration.

Was the person with the mask and shotgun not identified? It seems likely that he was, since the police managed to send a report to the CPS. A report would not be sent without details of an accused person.

Did the CPS decline to use film or the evidence that was obtained covertly? There have been precedents where covert surveillance taken by ngos has been accepted, especially in England. However there is a real mixed message since, if this was the reason the case was not proceeded with, it is at least the second case this year in England plus there have been two in Scotland. Of the different reasons for CPS not to take the case to court, this seems the most likely.

Failure of prosecutors to take forward cases where there is apparently clear evidence but obtained through covert filming on ‘private’ land is frustrating for the public. It may even be frustrating for the prosecutor. It seems almost like the law versus common sense. The balance seems tipped hugely in favour of a suspect and against public interest. It is an aspect of the legal system that has intrigued – and annoyed – me for several years and I give it more consideration in my new book Killing by Proxy: an analysis of wildlife crime, due for publication in November.

The Hunt Investigation Team also filmed cruelty to a captive fox at another location. It is still under investigation by the police. Hopefully that one will get to court.

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