Man jailed after DNA evidence taken from hunting dog

The hunting dog's DNA helped snare Colin Stewart. Picture: Contributed
The hunting dog's DNA helped snare Colin Stewart. Picture: Contributed
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A man has become the first person in Scotland to be jailed thanks to DNA evidence taken from a hunting dog.

Colin Stewart was handed a four-and-a-half month sentence after he and two other men were caught using dogs to hunt hares near Kirriemuir, Angus, in March.

Forfar Sheriff Court heard Stewart, along with a 16-year-old and friend Raymond Higgins, were reported to police on 27 March by witnesses.

Police found the three dogs they were using and took swabs for DNA analysis, while post mortems carried out on the hare they had killed found DNA matching one of the dogs.

Fiscal depute Fiona Caldwell said Stewart also took hares with dogs at locations across Scotland, including the island of Tiree, between 15 November last year and that date.

Police later examined a Samsung video camera found in a van at Ladywell Farm, on the outskirts of Kirriemuir, and found footage of the incident.

Ms Caldwell said the men had been engaged in “cruel sport” when police intervened.

She said: “At approximately 8:30am on 27 March, a witness aged 76 was at home when he became aware of Stewart setting a dog on a hare at Ladywell.

“The witness was also aware of a vehicle, a Ford Focus which was being driven and was associated with the people in the field.

“This was driven by Raymond Higgins.”

Police attended and stopped the men in the van nearby, where they claimed they were searching for a missing dog.

Ms Caldwell added: “It was then put to them that persons matching their description were seen coursing hares earlier, which they vehemently denied.

“They were noticeably evasive after that point.”

Two of the three dogs were in the van and Colin Stewart asked to retrieve the third which was in some nearby trees.

She added: “Shortly afterwards he made good his escape from the trees and was not traced.”

Additional units and a police dog were called in to trace Colin Stewart but he was not found.

The police later found footage of the Aberdeen men “posing” with dead hares and discussing the Kirriemuir incident on a video camera, and “extensive evidence” that Stewart had been involved in previous offences.

Raymond Higgins, 45, of Aberdeen, Colin Stewart, 31, of Aberdeen, and a 16-year-old, from Aberdeen, all admitted hare coursing charges.

Sheriff Pino di Emidio jailed Colin Stewart for 135 days while the youth was given a community payback order with one year’s supervision.

Both were banned from having custody of any dog for a year.

Higgins was fined £400.

Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, of Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division, said: “Hare coursing where dogs chase the animal, is a particularly violent crime.

“Public awareness is crucial in helping us tackle crimes like poaching and hare coursing.”

Dr Lucy Webster, of Wildlife DNA Forensics at Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, said: “This case demonstrates the power of animal DNA in wildlife crime investigation.

“A dog DNA profile recovered from the hare carcase is a match to one of the dependents’ dogs – providing very strong evidence to link these men to this specific hare coursing incident.”