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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Gamekeeper fined for bird deaths
Stephen Muir
Stephen Muir: His solicitor said he had "respect for countryside"
A gamekeeper has been fined 5,500 for what has been described as Scotland's worst wildlife crime.

Stephen Muir, 38, admitted killing 20 birds of prey by laying poisoned bait on a hillside.

He was suspended by the Barns Estate near Kirkton Manor, Peebleshire, which has publicly condemned his actions.

Muir, 38, originally faced eight charges. Buzzards, a goshawk and a tawny owl were among the birds found on the estate during a police raid in March.

Passing sentence, Sheriff James Farrell said he had taken into account that Muir was a first offender and had pleaded guilty.

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A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said the organisation was very disappointed that the gamekeeper had not been jailed for his crime.

"Our officers were absolutely appalled when they came across the dead birds, it was an horrific crime," he went on.

The spokesman said the case was the worst its wildlife workers had come across in more than 20 years.

He added: "Within the modern era of wildlife law this is a very major crime."

If I was convicted of something so brutal as this I would not be in a job
Dave Dick
RSPB Scotland
Muir, who worked on the Barns Estate for 17 years, was initially charged in connection with the deaths of 25 birds but some were too badly decomposed for the cause of their deaths to be ascertained.

Muir had faced a maximum six-month sentence and 5,000 fine per offence.

'Respect for countryside'.

Solicitor Mark Harrower said: "He felt he was doing his job, but in no way was he asked by the estate to do this.

"He is clearly someone who has respect and a love for the countryside. That is where he spends his life and work."

He was developing other means to protect the pheasant and partridge stock, such as growing low level shrubs for cover, Mr Harrower said.

These buzzards are some of the birds Muir killed
Dave Dick, a senior investigations officer with the RSPB, was with the police on the day the dead birds were discovered.

He told BBC News Online: "It was horrific. We were finding birds dead in trees. In my work with the RSPB I have never seen so many dead birds in a single incident, the wood was covered in them."

Mr Dick said he was alarmed by the fact the estate Mr Muir worked for had not yet sacked him.

"I understand that the estate has suspended this man and are now holding their own inquiry into the matter. However, if I was convicted of something so brutal as this I would not be in a job," he said.

Dropped cases

Mr Dick said he was pleased the fine was one of the largest made in recent years.

He added: "We are pleased that this case made it to court. We have had a number of disappointments this year where cases have been dropped by the procurator fiscal.

"Unfortunately the justice system is under pressure and wildlife crime doesn't always make it to court. However, this a matter which is in the public interest."

Mr Dick said it was important to remember that the poison Muir used to kill the birds was also a substance harmful to humans.

Amendments to the Criminal Justice Act, which received Royal Assent last year, introduced jail terms for those found guilty of animal cruelty, bringing Scotland into line with England and Wales.

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