Too much crime, the Mutch case

Goshawkfem55Scottish gamekeeper, George Mutch, was yesterday sentenced to four months in prison for trapping a Goshawk and beating it to death.  Mutch is the first gamekeeper to be jailed for killing raptors.  Click here to see some of the video evidence that led to the conviction in December.

It’s never a good thing for anyone to go to prison. I wouldn’t fancy it myself. But our society has decided that removing someone’s liberty is one of the ways to punish and potentially to chasten offenders against the law. Such a sentence will presumably act as a far greater deterrent than a fine, however large, because the prison sentence cannot be paid by another as can a fine.

This type of sentence has been available in other cases and I don’t know the details of this case, and particularly of Mr Mutch, but eventually society’s patience is bound to run out with the shooting industry’s blatant, repeated and widespread breaking of the laws protecting wildlife.  If a few custodial sentences are needed to change the ways of shooting estates then so be it.

One wonders just how many gamekeepers would have to go to prison for the message to get through. And one wonders how many gamekeepers are slept a little less easily last night because they are expected to break the law and know that they are in jeopardy themselves.

And in Scotland, there is vicarious liability too.

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. 

We commend those estates that operate within the law, but expect a better performance from this sector in future. We also thank the Crown Office, Police and Scottish SPCA for their help in bringing this case to a successful conclusion. 

RSPB Scotland has voiced concerns to the Scottish Government about the abuse of crow cage traps in Scotland for many years. Crow cage trap use is authorised annually by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) under the Open General Licence (OGL) and only certain types of birds, may be taken for specific purposes.

The use of such traps is therefore a privilege, and not a right, and cases of abuse of this type put the whole OGL system at risk. 

We welcome the recent announcement by Scottish Government to tighten up procedures, which will allow SNH to remove the use of the OGL from land where there is good evidence of crimes against protected birds of prey occurring.


A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA has taken the ultimate sanction available to it, as an organisation. Mr Mutch will no longer hold SGA membership.
The court has made its decision and Mr Mutch will now have to live with the consequences of his actions. 
On the wider general issue of wildlife crime in Scotland, there are many organisations united in ending wildlife crime, ourselves included, although some some would like to achieve that same worthy goal in different ways.
wwgbWhile committed to ending wildlife crime, the SGA hopes one day to see an enlightened approach where criminal sentences are part of a package which also includes empowering people with legal tools and alternatives to deal with  conflicts which can affect both their businesses and wider conservation. Only the most blinkered will fail to grasp that new adaptive measures to tackle conflicts are sorely needed, to meet modern realities.
Currently the SGA feels this part of the package is lacking and there are insufficient legal tools available to people experiencing genuine conflicts; people who want to resolve them in a scientific manner which balances both economics and conservation.
As an organisation, the SGA will continue to campaign for these legal alternatives to be made available so that wildlife crime can be tackled at its root and can therefore be ended in Scotland.

13 Replies to “Too much crime, the Mutch case”

  1. I’m not sure what the SGA are saying in that rather garbled statement, they seem to be saying that he is guilty of getting caught for a crime that they don’t think should be a crime.
    They don’t seem to condemn the crime he was convicted of, and go further to say the law needs changing.
    This is obviously not an industry which can be trusted to self regulation

      1. Perfectly captured by Michael Gill on the RPS blog.

        ‘We are committed to ending wildlife crime’
        ‘Killing raptors is a wildlife crime’
        “Make killing raptors not a crime”
        “Ta da!”

        More worrying for me is that a Police Service of Scotland Superintendent persists in the idea that its a “small minority” of keepers especially after the sheriff helpfully acknowleded the impact of illegal killing on populations and distribution saying it was a “huge problem’. Its difficult to reconcile the two statements.

  2. Finally the law taking wildlife crime seriously! Sounds like the SGA are saying they want the law weakened though.

  3. Here is another twist in the tail. The Forestry Commission want to give land owners lots of money to control Grey Squirrels. At the same time the land owners kill Goshawks and Pine Martens [Scotland – already extinct in England and Wales] the species that control Grey Squirrel numbers. A petition now wants FC to stop –
    But like so many petitions it does not answer the real problem which is stopping the land owners killing the very predators that control the Grey Squirrel. I am sure the public and these readers are not aware of the real problems in the country and especially the effect this killing of predators is really having at a cost to themselves.

  4. The first custodial sentence for an egg collector was in 2002, so wildlife crime has been taken seriously in the past, as have offences generally against animals, wild and domestic. It just depends on who is doing it. The 13 year wait for the game industry to be treated in the same way as egg collectors reflects, to a fair degree, double standards and a deferential unwillingness to ‘criminalise’ the landowning interest.

  5. The tide seems to be turning, at least in Scotland anyway. First vicarious liability conviction and now this. I’m sure that it is public opinion that is driving this and that it’s social media use that’s driving public opinion. It behoves us all to keep it up.
    Incidentally I look forward to SNH revoking the OGL for crow traps on Kildrummy Estate in due course……….No! wait! Something flew past the window, was it a pig? YEP!

  6. Mark, what odds would you have given on that result? Then also what odds would you give for a similar conviction in the future under vicarious liability?

  7. So the SGA are basically saying – ‘ Stop this being a crime by legalising it’. Yes we can obviously trust them to self-regulate. They are an intellectually and morally bankrupt organisation, in fact a complete embarrassment.

  8. Watching the video evidence I was struck by the calm and casual way in which Mr Mutch goes about committing this heinous act. This is a man expertly going about his daily business in same manner in which I expect our host knocks out his daily blog, the way a bar man pulls a pint or a drystone waller builds a wall.

    I suspect Mr Mutch had done this many many times before. Four months is a joke.

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