A Perthshire gamekeeper who was put through months of hell after a prosecution pursued by an animal charity has expressed concerns about them being given additional powers.
For almost 18 months Mike Reddington, who has a wife and daughter, had a criminal case instigated by Scottish SPCA hanging over him for allegedly setting an illegal crow trap on a hillside.
SSPCA officers found a Larsen mate trap with protruding ends of wire mesh on land which had suffered three years of illegal trap damage by public accessing it.
The SSPCA, did not find any animal or bird in the trap , which was not set to catch, but Mr Reddington still found himself facing a court action which could have threatened his family’s future.
The trap, incapable of catching a live creature, had been interfered with and safety features installed had been removed.
Traps, approved under licence by SNH, are legitimate legal tools for predator control, helping gamekeepers to protect game and conservation-listed wild birds.
Scottish SPCA have, for years, lobbied against their use and campaign publicly for an outright ban.
Currently, the Scottish government is also considering extending the charity’s powers to investigate wildlife crime cases, including cases involving traps and snares.
Mr Reddington, a highly trained licensed trap operator, kept years of records of each trap set, including over three years of photographs of vandalism to traps on his ground.
Fortunately, he was able to document this to Police through detailed records.
Despite this, Scottish SPCA officials gained access to scour the estate and instigated a case against the gamekeeper, claiming he had set a Larsen mate trap which may have injured a wild bird or animal.
The Crown finally dropped the case, brought in November 2012, on the eve of the trial after his lawyers presented evidence to the Procurator Fiscal.
Nevertheless, the gamekeeper could have lost his General Licence to work- and his family house.
Had his employer not footed the costs required to fight the action, Mr Reddington’s life could have been torn apart.
“It’s frightening what they (Scottish SPCA) were able to do to me and my family. I have never committed a crime in my life and I am not one to speak out. I am doing so is in the hope others don’t have to go through the same.
“I am fully in favour of Scottish SPCA spending money investigating cases of animal cruelty but there was never an injured bird found and the trap wasn’t even set to catch.
“In my opinion, they wanted to pursue this prosecution because, as an organisation, they are generally against the use of snares and these types of traps. In my view, they should have recovered my records of vandalism to the police and noticed that the trap was incapable of catching anything and was not set.
They should have taken into account the fact no bird or animal was injured.
“I respect their right to have a view on traps, but if they are a lobbying body, they should not, in my view, be given powers similar to police. It wouldn’t happen in any other walk of life.
“Luckily, I was able to verify things with evidence to the Police. If Scottish SPCA are given more powers to go onto people’s estates and pursue cases, without proper Police counter-balance, what chance do people without access to expert representation have?”
Mr Reddington’s estate operated as a partner in Operation Countrywatch but has since left, disappointed with other partners such as RSPB, who had full access to the estate, did not speak with them over the case.
“I have years of pictures of damage done to estate property including people stripping the fittings right off traps, which was reported to the Police.
“If I had been convicted of a wildlife crime, I would have lost my General Licence. That would have stopped me working. I would have lost the family house.
“I know how lucky I am that my employer supported me by funding my case through my lawyer but I fear others won’t be so fortunate and I know of more cases like this.”
Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said Mr Reddington’s case was not a one-off.
“What Mike and his family went through shouldn’t happen and we know other gamekeepers and their families who have faced something similar.
“So much anti-gamekeeper sentiment has been whipped up by conservation and animal welfare groups that it is now the case that a gamekeeper appears in the eyes of the public guilty until proven innocent. That shouldn’t happen in a modern democratic society.”