A GAMEKEEPER, who failed to prevent an assistant killing birds of prey and clubbing badgers to death on a 6,000-acre sporting estate, escaped an immediate prison sentence yesterday.
Roger Venton, 34, of Wheldrake Lane, Elvington, near York, was given a sentence of three months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, at Telford Magistrates’ Court.
The former head gamekeeper on the Kempton Estate in Shropshire pleaded guilty to using an illegal spring trap and permitting assistant keeper Kyle Burden to use a cage trap to illegally catch birds of prey.
The charges, contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, included allowing his 19-year-old assistant to use a caged trap baited with a raven.
Geoffrey Dann, prosecuting, said Venton was employed as head gamekeeper in charge of a shoot with 40,000 pheasants and 20,000 partridges.
Mr Dann said the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds were contacted by two seasonal gamekeepers who reported illegal killing of protected wildlife including buzzards and badgers.
Investigators went to the estate and found a cage trap, which are legal in some circumstances, and a pole trap – a spring trap placed on top of a tall pole – made illegal in 1904.
Burden, of Kempton, who worked on the shoot before Venton was employed, was sentenced at an earlier hearing to 26 weeks in prison, suspended for six months, and unpaid work.
He had pleaded guilty to the use of illegal traps, as well as killing buzzards and badgers. The court heard that other keepers had said he demonstrated a “cavalier attitude.”
Mr Dann said: “The defendant admits that he allowed Kyle Burden to use a caged trap on May 15 and that Kyle Burden had baited the trap with a raven. The defendant does not accept that he knew how widespread Kyle Burden’s use of traps was on the estate.
“The defendant accepts that had he kept a closer eye on Kyle Burden then these offences might not have been committed.”
The court heard Venton admitted he had seen Burden’s pole trap and told him to take it down, but he did not do so. Mr Dann said Venton had not set some of the traps, but as head gamekeeper he was responsible.
Magistrates were told investigations had shown Burden had clubbed badgers to death and had kept a ‘diary’ of the killing on the estate.
Giving Venton a suspended sentence, as well as 250 hours of unpaid work and £2,000 costs, magistrates’ chairman Russell Thomas said: “You were in a position of authority and you failed to exercise that authority appropriately.
“We are entirely satisfied that you had adequate knowledge of these matters and you failed to intervene to prevent them.”
Huw Williams, defending, told the court Venton was “petrified”. He knew he was unlikely to work as a gamekeeper again and had moved to Yorkshire with his wife and young baby and planned to be an HGV driver.
Mr Williams said: “A clear distinction can be drawn as to culpability and harm between Kyle Burden and Roger Venton. It’s clear that Kyle Burden wanted to hurt and kill these animals.
He said: “At the end of the day, while he accepts responsibility for the supervisory aspect, Mr Burden effectively was a rogue keeper.”