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RSPB Scotland “extremely frustrated” after hen harrier killing charges dropped

Friday May 5th 2017 at 7:59 AM

A female hen harrier. Photo: Andy Hay/ RSPB.

A female hen harrier. Photo: Andy Hay/ RSPB.

RSPB Scotland says it is “extremely frustrated” after court proceedings against a former gamekeeper accused of shooting a hen harrier in Banffshire were dropped.

It happened in Cabrach, near Huntly, in June 2013 – with an ongoing police investigation and nine court hearings having taken place since then.

After reviewing all evidence available to them prosecutors dropped the case on Friday, just a few weeks before a scheduled trial.

RSPB Scotland says it captured video footage of the incident which would have been enough to secure a conviction.

The organisation has released a statement saying it is “appalled and extremely frustrated” that the courts are choosing not to use it.

A camera was installed to film a nesting attempted of two hen harriers on the Cabrach Estate as part of routine work, and three weeks later captured the alleged death of one of the birds.

The group has described the content of the video: “The female hen harrier was flushed from the nest, and immediately afterwards two gun shots were heard.

“The bird was apparently hit as a shower of feathers can be seen.

“A few seconds later, a man, carrying a shotgun entered the picture and moved in the direction of where the hen harrier had flown.

“He then returned into the picture holding the carcass of the dead hen harrier, and was seen to pick up a number of feathers that had been dislodged from the bird.”

RSPB Scotland showed the footage to Police Scotland immediately, and the case was later reported for trial after officers identified a suspect.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “In our opinion, the video footage clearly shows an individual involved in the illegal killing and then disposal of a hen harrier, one of Scotland’s most threatened bird species.

“Whilst we know that hen harriers are often illegally targeted by gamekeepers seeking to protect red grouse stocks, such crimes usually take place in remote areas, and it is therefore very difficult to obtain evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“This incident would never have been uncovered had the nest not been monitored by our camera.”

A female hen harrier in flight. Photo: Mark Thomas/ RSPB.

A female hen harrier in flight. Photo: Mark Thomas/ RSPB.

“Seeking urgent meetings”

Mr Orr-Ewing added: “RSPB video evidence has been used in the successful prosecution of previous wildlife crime cases in Scotland, including two very similar incidents of hen harrier persecution, and more recently our film footage assisted in the conviction of an Aberdeenshire gamekeeper for a number of raptor persecution offences.

“We are appalled and extremely frustrated that the court has not been given the opportunity to give a judgement based on this clear footage, and we are perplexed by the inconsistency in approach to these cases that seems to be taken by the Crown Office (COPFS).

“In our view, justice has not been seen to be done in this case, and the public interest seems to have been very badly served by COPFS.

“We have written to the Lord Advocate and will be seeking urgent meetings with the Crown Office to consider the implications.”

A COPFS spokesperson said: “In accordance with the Crown’s ongoing duty to keep prosecutions under review and after carrying out a detailed review of all of the relevant material, Crown Counsel considered that the inevitable conclusion was that RSPB investigators entered the land in question and embarked upon evidence gathering for the purpose of prosecution.

“Discussions have taken place over a number of years between RSPB and COPFS about the admissibility of evidence obtained through the use of covert surveillance.

“The Crown has consistently made it clear that strict legal tests must be met before evidence which has been obtained irregularly, such as the evidence in this case, is admissible. We will continue to have further dialogue with RSPB.

“In the whole circumstances, Crown Counsel concluded that the evidence would not be admissible in court. In light of that conclusion it was entirely appropriate that proceedings were brought to an end.”

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