A shooting magnate who runs one of the UK’s top hunting and stalking agencies has become the second estate manager in Scotland to be convicted for the crimes of his gamekeeper.
Graham Christie, 56, of Kingussie-based Dunmhor Shooting, was fined 3200 after his keeper, James O’Reilly, admitted catching a buzzard in an illegal gin trap, a practice outlawed in Britain for more than 60 years.
Stirling Sheriff Court heard O’Reilly, 50, felt he was under “pressure” from Christie to target birds of prey on the 5000-acre Cardross Estate near Port of Menteith, Stirlingshire.
Kate Fleming, prosecuting, said the distressed buzzard was found by a man walking his dog on the estate on March 25, 2013.
It was caught by its leg in a trap set near a pheasant pen, which was baited by a dead roe deer.
The court heard the bird was “flapping about and in obvious pain”. Ms Fleming said there appeared to be considerable blood loss.
The man took the bird home and called the Scottish SPCA, but despite treatment it had to be put down five days later.
Police went to the scene and found a small, factory-made gin trap of a kind not sold in the UK, with jaws controlled by two strong springs.
Gin traps were historically used by game keepers to kill raptors, which eat small livestock and birds reared for sport shooting, however the practice was made illegal in 1954.
Ms Fleming said: “It was set next to a deer carcass on a forest ride and in this situation it would have been entirely indiscriminate as the type of bait is extremely attractive to a range of mammalian and avian scavengers, from crows to eagles and from weasels to badgers.”
Police searched O’Reilly’s shed and found another gin trap and other snaring equipment.
O’Reilly told police that his job involved rearing pheasants for shooting and keeping on top of vermin.
He said he understood that Christie considered birds of prey to fall into the category of vermin.
Christie, of Kingussie, Inverness-shire, pleaded guilty to being vicariously liable for O’Reilly’s crimes in setting the gin trap and intentionally killing a wild bird.
David McKie, defending, said: “This is like the situation in the licensed trade where a person sells a bottle of Buckfast to a 15-year-old and the licence-holder bears responsibility.”
He said Christie was actually in Cuba when the buzzard was trapped and added: “He accepts he didn’t do enough and ought to have done more.
“He has added a clause to the contract of all gamekeepers saying they must abide by the Act.”
Sheriff Gillian Wade QC told Christie: “The law seeks to deal with those who benefit from the proceeds of these crimes, and that is why you have been prosecuted. The law takes a serious view of these matters.”
O’Reilly, of Stronachlacher, in the Trossachs, is no longer employed on the estate. He was sentenced to 240 hours of unpaid work earlier this year.
Helen Nisbet, head of the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit at the Crown Office, said: “These offences were committed well after the vicarious liability offence was introduced and the accused had ample time in which to take advice and put appropriate measures in place.
“He failed in his responsibilities and as a result stands convicted of the killing of a wild bird using an illegal gin trap.
“Anyone who seeks to injure or kill wild birds and anyone who employs or engages the services of such persons without taking appropriate precautions to prevent these offences being committed can fully expect to be brought to account before the courts.”