Saturday September 20 2008
A teenage gamekeeper who clubbed to death badgers and shot buzzards then recorded the illegal killings in a coded diary has been spared jail.
Kyle Burden claimed he killed the animals ahead of the shooting season to protect pheasants and partridges, game for wealthy visitors to a Shropshire estate. He put all the details in a diary, alongside the deaths of 300 rabbits and 40 ravens.
Burden was yesterday given a six-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to complete 150 hours of community service, after pleading guilty to killing two buzzards, attempting to kill two other birds, and killing two badgers.
He also admitted setting illegal traps, possessing a shotgun while committing two of the offences, and asked for five other offences of killing badgers to be taken into consideration.
The notes he kept, complete with symbols for the deaths of different animals, suggested he may have killed many more birds of prey, Telford magistrates heard.
The court heard how Burden, of Kempton, Lydbury North in Shropshire, worked on the 6,000-acre Kempton estate near Bishop’s Castle, south Shropshire.
He used a shotgun to kill and attempt to kill common buzzards in May and July last year, said Phil Mason, prosecuting. Burden initially denied any wrongdoing when Royal Society for the Protection of Birds began an investigation into allegations of illegal practices at Kempton.
Mason said: “This is an unusual case, in that it came to light as a result of information received from two other gamekeepers. One of the witnesses saw Burden shoot a number of buzzards and also club to death a number of badgers that had been caught in snares.”
Urging magistrates to impose a community sentence, Burden’s lawyer, Huw Williams, said his client was of exemplary character and had not committed the offences for pleasure or gratuitously: “This man was born and bred in the countryside – he knows full well that what he has done is wrong.
“He did it to help other birds – that’s the paradox of this case.
“In this world of shooting, which is a huge industry, the likes of Kyle Burden are used to prepare the shoots.
“There has to be a set number of birds for those with money to come to these estates and enjoy the kill.”
Burden, who received a letter of dismissal from Kempton yesterday, had seen his stock of birds drop from 18,000 to 12,000 prior to the offences, the court heard. “He thought he was doing right by his flock of birds,” Williams added.
Sentencing Burden, magistrate Claire Brentnall said the bench had taken into account the defendant’s obvious remorse and his youth.
The magistrate told Burden: “We appreciate that you are very clearly remorseful and we have also taken into account your positive good character.”
Outside court Mark Thomas, spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “It sends a very strong signal out, to get the six months maximum sentence.
“That is a great result for the RSPB and the police, it sends out a very clear message that you cannot kill birds of prey in the countryside and get away with it.”
But Kit Davidson, a spokesman for Animal Aid, said: “It’s a great shame to see a 19-year-old lad in court taking the rap for this.
“There is an attitudinal problem in the game keeping industry – these gamekeepers are being driven by their duty to their employers.
“Why is the law not altered, so that employers are responsible for the actions of their employees?”