A gamekeeper caught on an RSPB hidden camera faces jail after being found guilty of killing and trapping birds of prey

Aberdeenshire gamekeeper George Mutch was found guilty on 11 December 2014 of illegally using a trap and recklessly killing or injuring two goshawks and a buzzard at Kildrummy Estate, near Alford in Aberdeenshire.

The prosecution case hinged on controversial video evidence submitted by the RSPB, which was obtained secretly using a hidden camera. Sheriff Noel McPartlin ruled that the footage was admissible on the grounds that it was the by-product of a legitimate survey.

Ian Thomson, head of the RSPB Scotland’s investigations unit, told Aberdeen Sheriff’s Court that workers for the charity routinely entered estates without the permission of landowners. Mr Thomson said: “Because we are entering an area for scientific study we feel we are using our access rights under the Land Reform Act.”

Sentencing is due to take place next month. Sheriff McPartlin said he was considering a custodial term.

Expelled from Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association

As a result of the conviction, Mr Mutch was expelled from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association. A spokesman for the association said: “Mr Mutch’s membership of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has been in suspension for some time, until the outcome of the case was known. Now that it is, he will no longer be a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association.

“This is the 5th time in three years the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has suspended memberships after individuals were proven in court to have committed a wildlife crime. This is consistent with the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s clear stance that we will not condone anyone taking the law into their own hands.”

“On the separate, theoretical, issue of the use of covert video evidence, it is clear to us that it should not be acceptable for individuals from one particular profession to be under surveillance in their place of work, without their knowledge, and to have their right to liberty and privacy from such encroachment, removed. If this is to be the direction of travel, it is not right for Scottish Government to deny people whose livelihoods come under pressure due to the activity of certain species or animals, recourse to a legal solution to solve that conflict.

Legal and scientific means

“Currently, there are no legal or scientific means by which people can protect their investments or jobs in situations exacerbated by conflicts with species. Scottish Government has never granted anyone from the game industry a licence to protect investments, which they have the power to do, although it does grant licences routinely to other industries. This, in our view, is a barrier to justice and does nothing to prevent wildlife crime.

“In a society supposedly enlightened when it comes to tackling this issue, we believe this is untenable and we will be seeking talks with Scottish Government so that this anomaly is finally closed, removing once and for all the rationale for people to commit wildlife crime.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “We welcome the conviction of George Mutch on the four charges, including illegal killing of a goshawk. This long-running case, informed by evidence from RSPB Scotland staff, has finally delivered some justice. To witness the destruction of a specially protected bird of prey in this callous manner was truly shocking. Crimes against protected birds of prey are an affront to the people of Scotland and damage the reputation of the sport shooting industry.”