Shooting groups highlight legal powers of gamekeepers after poaching case.
Gamekeepers Jeremy Wearmouth, Douglas MacLean and Lewis Williams were charged with affray after they encountered two men – Michael Collins and Luke Doyle from Manchester in early 2009.
Mr Williams was additionally charged with possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.
On 10 December, Teesside Crown Court heard how Mr Collins and Mr Doyle were found on a moorland road after two keepers ? Mr Williams and Mr MacLean ? saw a spotlight playing across open country.
After approaching the van and speaking to the pair, the keepers confiscated an air rifle fitted with a moderator, a hand-held spotlight and a number of dead rabbits.
Mr Wearmouth, the headkeeper, also arrived on the scene, and it was established that Mr Collins and Mr Doyle did not have permission to shoot on the site.
The pair were then sent on their way without their gun. Later the police received a complaint from Mr Collins and Mr Doyle about the way they had been treated and the fact their gun and equipment had been taken from them.
After a four-day hearing the jury took just 36 minutes to find the keepers not guilty on all charges.
During the hearing, it emerged the police officer who investigated the alleged poachers? complaint was apparently unaware that keepers are entitled to confiscate guns and other equipment they suspect is being used for poaching during the hours of darkness.
The National Gamekeepers? Organisation is demanding to know why the case proceeded as far as it did.
Chairman, Lindsay Waddell, said: ?We have heard politicians of all stripes saying the state must support decent citizens who tackle criminals. So how on earth did three highly reputable, professional gamekeepers find themselves in the dock in this instance??
BASC spokesman, Simon Clarke, said this case highlights the need for much better understanding of wildlife crime and the role of keepers as the first line of defence.
?Gamekeepers need support from the police, not to be dragged down to the cells, charged and put in front of a jury.?
A spokesman for North Yorkshire police defended the officer?s actions: ?We must take all reports of violence and threats with firearms seriously. We have a duty to investigate if we believe an offence has been committed. We hope this case does not undermine our relationship with keepers whose support we value very much.?