The gamekeeper on the exclusive Highland estate where Madonna married Guy Ritchie was found with enough supplies of a banned poison to wipe out every bird of prey in Scotland six times over, it was revealed yesterday.
The supplies of carbofuran, a highly toxic pesticide, were discovered in a locked store during a raid on the Skibo Estate in Sutherland just days after two golden eagles and a sparrowhawk were found poisoned in the area in May last year. Two of the birds were discovered on the estate, and the other nearby.
Inverness Sheriff Court heard yesterday that the only man who had the keys to the storeroom was 44-year-old former Ulster Defence Regiment officer Dean Barr, of East Lodge, Clashmore, Dornoch.
Barr was fined 3,300 after he admitted illegal possession of the substance, which was banned in 2005. Sheriff Margaret Neilson told him: "The Crown has accepted that you were not responsible for killing the birds, but if you had been, it would have been difficult for your defence lawyer to argue against a prison sentence, even although you are a first offender."
Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said the shoot manager on the prestigious Skibo Estate had ten kilogrammes of the highly toxic banned pesticide - enough to poison the entire UK bird of prey population.
He added: "If ever there were a more compelling reason for an individual to feel the full weight of the law in a wildlife crime case, then the conviction of Dean Barr was it. Carbofuran is a deadly and illegal substance, regularly used as a poison by those who wish harm to birds of prey in Scotland.
"Barr, a man who is a professional sporting manager with years of experience, was found with an unprecedented amount of this banned chemical in his possession.
"We are pleased that the sheriff has sent out a clear message that society will not tolerate such reckless and deplorable behaviour in the countryside."
Earlier, procurator-fiscal Ian Smith told the court he accepted Barr's defence that he had not administered the poison, which he said was the "largest find ever of poison in the UK".
He added: "Mr Barr is not charged with killing these birds of prey, only the illegal possession of the poison.
"It was found when the police obtained search warrants for Skibo Estate after the bodies of two golden eagles and a sparrowhawk were found on 5 May and 7 May - two on the estate and one adjacent to it.
"Examination showed they had all died from the poison. There are only 425 breeding pairs of golden eagles in Scotland and 8,000-12,000 pairs of sparrowhawks, which are in decline."Defending, David McKie said his client was well-regarded personally and professionally.
He explained that the carbofuran had been bought by a farm manager in the Borders Barr used to work for and that he had failed to get rid of it when he moved north.
"He never used it and no-one else knew it was there," said Mr McKie. "It was a foolish act of omission, rather than commission."
Chief Inspector Matthew Reiss, Northern Constabulary's wildlife crime co-ordinator, said: "Experts say that the amount of poison our officers uncovered would have been enough to kill every bird of prey in the UK."
He added: "Our investigation into the deaths of these birds remains open. There is no excuse for the illegal killing of some of our most iconic species."
The Skibo Estate is owned by an American investment banker. A spokesman for the estate declined to comment.