First Wildlife Vicarious Liability Conviction in Scotland

LANDOWNER Ninian Stewart sentenced yesterday (23/12/2014)  after pleading guilty to being vicariously liable for Peter Finley Bells’ crime of poisoning and killing of a wild bird.

Ninian Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart was convicted at Stranraer Sheriff Court on 23 December 2014 and fined a total of £675 today for four offences under Section 15A(1) and Section 18A(1) and (2) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 18A(2) makes the accused guilty of the original offence and liable to be punished accordingly.

This is the first landmark prosecution and conviction in Scotland under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which came into force on January 1, 2012.

Section 18A(2) created a new vicarious liability offence meaning that a person (B), who has shooting rights on or over land, or who manages or controls the exercise of such rights, can be found guilty of a relevant offence(s) committed by a person (A) while acting as the employee or agent of B.

This provision is designed to encourage landowners and employers with varying levels of responsibility in connection with shooting to be diligent and proactive in countering wildlife crime.

Stewart, the landowner of Glasserton & Physgill Estates, was convicted of being vicariously liable for the criminal actions of Glasserton gamekeeper Peter Bell on land owned by Stewart and on which he held the shooting rights.

Bell was a full time Gamekeeper in the employ of Ninian Stewart when he committed the poisoning offence on 23 December 2012 at Glasserton Home Farm. He had laced the carcass of a pheasant baited with Carbofuran and set the bait in a field. A birdwatcher passing the farm saw something flapping in the field and on closer inspection found that it was a common buzzard, lying on the ground, in the last throws of life. Subsequent forensic work showed that the buzzard had died as a result of ingesting the poisoned bait.

Under section 18A(3) it is a defence for B to show that B did not know that the offence(s) was being committed by A, and that B took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence being committed.

In this case, while there was no indication that Mr Stewart instructed the commission of the offences or that he even knew about them being committed, there no evidence that Mr Stewart took any steps to exercise due diligence in respect of shooting on his Estate.

Sara Shaw, Procurator Fiscal, Wildlife and Environment said: “There is a proactive responsibility placed on those who employ game keepers 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 (under section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) 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.

“The law specifically protects wild birds. Those who seek to poison wild birds, or continue to possess stocks of illegal poison, and those who employ or engage the services of such persons and tolerate the commission of these offences, or who do so without taking all reasonable steps and exercising all due diligence to prevent them being committed, can fully expect to be brought to account before the courts.”

1 comment to First Wildlife Vicarious Liability Conviction in Scotland

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    Although this prosecution was important, a fine of just £675 was disgraceful. Once again the court failed to take on board the seriousness of the offence committed. If Vicarious Liability is to play any part in bringing to an end the illegal actions of estate employees i.e., gamekeepers, then the penalties imposed by the courts should reflect what has taken place. A fine of just £675 is of little or no consequence, although the landowner’s embarrassment resulting from his prosecution may prove to be of far more significance here.