30/12/2014
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First vicarious liability prosecution for raptor poisoning

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Despite being protected under law, Common Buzzard is still frequently persecuted by landowners and their gamekeepers in Britain. Photo: Steve Young.
Despite being protected under law, Common Buzzard is still frequently persecuted by landowners and their gamekeepers in Britain. Photo: Steve Young.
In an unprecedented ruling, a landowner has been fined £675 over the actions of a gamekeeper who illegally poisoned a Common Buzzard on his land.

Ninian Stewart was the first individual to be convicted under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, a recent amendment to wildlife crime law that means employers can be held liable for the actions of their employees. Gamekeeper Peter Bell had previously admitted killing the buzzard by poisoning in December 2012, near Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway, and was employed by Stewart, 66, who admitted four charges at Stranraer Sheriff Court.

The new offence of 'vicarious liability' means that a person who has or controls the shooting rights over land can be found guilty of crimes committed by an employee acting as their agent. Bell was a gamekeeper employed by Stewart when he laced a Pheasant carcass with carbofuran and set the bait in the field at Glasserton Home Farm. A passing birder later came upon a dying Common Buzzard, which was later shown to have ingested the poisoned bait.

The Crown Office said that while there was no indication that Stewart had commissioned or knew about the offences, there was also no evidence he had exercised due diligence in respect of shooting on his estate. Procurator Fiscal Sara Shaw said: "There is a proactive responsibility placed on those who employ gamekeepers to run shooting estates, to ensure that is done within the parameters of the law. These offences were committed almost a year after the vicarious liability offence was introduced. Mr Stewart had adequate notice and time in which to take advice and put appropriate measures in place. Mr Stewart failed in his responsibilities and as a result stands convicted of the killing of a wild bird."

Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners across Scotland, said the gamekeeper was subsequently dismissed from his post and the shoot closed down. Their spokesperson said: "The estate believed it had sufficient safeguards in place but that was not the case. The estate has admitted ignorance of the law and the limited extent of its culpability is reflected in the low level of fine.

"Before this incident, the estate had an unblemished record. When Vicarious Liability offences were introduced there was a great deal of confusion over the liabilities of estates and that remains an ongoing issue despite the industry trying its utmost to advise on the pitfalls of this legislation."
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