I never saw them – claim of farmer accused of shooting near hunters
verdict expected today on man accused of recklessly firing towards goose-hunting party
By Leanna MacLarty
A jury is expected to deliver a verdict today in the case of a farmer charged with recklessly shooting towards a party of goose hunters.
Michael Sutherland claims he took “every precaution” to make sure nobody was in the firing line when he began shooting at rabbits and tin cans with a high-powered .243 rifle on his farm at Foveran in Aberdeenshire.
The 38-year-old farmer and former RAF Nimrod pilot told Aberdeen Sheriff Court yesterday there was no way he could have known that a party of eight goose hunters were camouflaged in gorse bushes nearby on neighbouring land.
Sutherland denies putting eight men at risk of injury or death by culpably or recklessly firing ammunition from a rifle in their direction on October 26, 2009.
The jury is expected to retire to consider a verdict today after hearing six days of evidence.
Sutherland pleaded guilty yesterday to a separate charge of possessing more than 200 rounds above what his firearms licence entitled him.
“It was a mistake and I am sorry for that,” he said.
Sutherland said that part of his aim that day was to get rid of the excess rounds by firing at vermin like rabbits and practising on tin cans.
He denied a suggestion from fiscal depute Neil Shand that he fired towards the shooting party because of a “sense of injustice or some aggravation” towards them.
Asked by Mr Shand if he thought he did anything wrong that day, he replied: “I still believe I took all reasonable precautions I could to ensure it was a safe area with a safe backdrop to shoot in.
“I don’t see what more I could have done.
“I don’t think I could really have known people were fully camouflaged with netting in a bush.
“I do think safety over everything is the paramount concern.”
The fiscal depute asked: “If you are firing a bullet that might blow the back of someone’s head off, do you consider it your responsibility to look out to any area where the bullet might conceivably go?” Sutherland replied: “Yes.”
But Sutherland admitted he did not use binoculars or the magnified scope of the rifle to survey the area.
He told the court he had not heard the eight men shooting at geese and did not spot them walking into the open to collect the carcasses.
The farmer, who gave his address as The New Farmhouse, Hillhead of Foveran, Newburgh, said the “only explanation” he could see for the bullets going anywhere near the Irishmen was that they ricocheted or there were “sighting errors” with the gun.
When reminded of evidence from constable Andrew Snell that Sutherland gave “no sign of shock or surprise” when he was arrested, he said: “I was shocked by the whole incident. I was complying with firearms officers.”
The trial before Sheriff Kenneth Stewart continues today.