MSPs query decision to drop bird of prey shooting case

MSPs have asked the Crown Office to clarify how it handles evidence in wildlife crime cases after the prosecution of an alleged bird of prey shooting was dropped.
A gamekeeper appears to be setting an illegal pole trapA gamekeeper appears to be setting an illegal pole trap
A gamekeeper appears to be setting an illegal pole trap

RSPB Scotland said one of its cameras at Cabrach in Moray recorded evidence suggesting that a hen harrier had been illegally killed in June 2013.

The camera was monitoring the active nest of a breeding pair of hen harriers on the Cabrach Estate, but the Crown Office said last month the evidence would not be admissible in court.

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Wildlife campaigner Chris Packham said he was “very angry” about the case being discontinued and accused the Crown Office of a “lack of consistency”.

The prosecution service said its actions had been “entirely appropriate”, having concluded RSPB investigators entered the land and gathered evidence for the purpose of prosecution, rendering it inadmissible. The Crown Office also defended the decision to drop a similar case from Angus on the same basis.

Now Holyrood’s environment, climate change and land reform committee has written to the Crown Office seeking clarification on evidence admissibility.

The letter states: “The committee has noted recent high-profile instances where video evidence of alleged offences was available and not utilised, it has been suggested, on the grounds of admissibility.”

Committee convener Graeme Dey MSP, right, said: “Our committee has today written to the Crown Office seeking clarity on the use of evidence, particularly video evidence, in helping to address crimes against Scotland’s precious wildlife.

“These days, there’s clearly an argument for the use of video, CCTV or even social media to be considered when a crime against any animal is alleged to have been committed. And, as it’s often the case that poaching or killing of wildlife occurs in some of the most remote areas in Scotland, these crimes can sometimes go under the radar because there is no-one around to act as a witness.”

A Crown Office spokesman said the organisation is “committed to the rigorous, fair and independent prosecution of crime, including wildlife and environmental crime”.

He added: “The investigation of crime is subject to rules which have developed over many years and aim to strike a balance between enabling justice to be done and protecting the public from illegal or irregular invasions of their liberties.

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“Discussions have taken place over a number of years between the RSPB and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service about the admissibility of evidence obtained through the use of covert surveillance.

“The Crown has consistently made clear the limitations which the law places on the admissibility of evidence which has been obtained irregularly.”