Hare courser first to be jailed in Scotland from animal DNA


11 August 2016

The evidence from a hunting dog was used to snare three people for the crime in total.

A hare courser has become the first person in Scotland to be jailed using DNA evidence taken from a hunting dog.

Colin Stewart, 31, was handed a four-and-a-half month sentence after he and two other males were caught using dogs to hunt hares near Kirriemuir, Angus, in March.

All three, from Aberdeen, admitted committing the wildlife offence during their trial at Forfar Sheriff Court.

Raymond Higgins, 45, was fined £400 and disqualified from having custody of any dog for a year.

A 16-year-old co-accused, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given a one-year supervision order and disqualification of custody of any dog for a year.

The court heard how witnesses reported the hare coursing to police on March 27, providing detailed descriptions of the men and the vehicle used.

Fiscal depute Fiona Caldwell said Stewart also took hares with dogs at locations across Scotland, including Tiree, between November 15 last year and that date.

Police later examined a Samsung video camera found in their van at Ladywell Farm, Kirriemuir, and found footage of the incident.

Ms Caldwell said the men had been engaged in "cruel sport" when police intervened.

She said: "At approximately 8.30am on March 27, a witness, aged 76, was at home when he became aware of the men setting a dog on a hare at Ladywell.

"The witness was also aware of a vehicle, a Ford Focus which was being driven and was associated with the people in the field. This was driven by Raymond Higgins."

Police attended and stopped the men in the van nearby, where they claimed they were searching for a missing dog.

All were arrested and their three dogs were photographed and swabs taken for DNA analysis.

DNA from one of the dogs matched a sample taken from the dead hare.

Mobile phones and a video camera were seized during the investigation and found to contain footage of the men posing with dead hares.

Dr Lucy Webster, of Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) said: "This case demonstrates the power of animal DNA in wildlife crime investigation.

"A dog DNA profile recovered from the hare carcass is a match to one of the dogs, providing very strong evidence to link these men to this specific hare coursing incident."

Detective chief superintendent Sean Scott, of Police Scotland’s specialist crime division, said: "Investigating wildlife crime can be difficult because of the nature of the crimes and the terrain where crimes occur.

"Hare coursing where dogs chase the animal is a particularly violent crime. Public awareness is crucial in helping us tackle crimes like poaching and hare coursing.

"The public have also played a major part in this investigation by providing such detailed descriptions and accounts of the incident."

http://stv.tv/news/tayside/1363640-hare-courser-first-to-be-jailed-in-scotland-from-animal-dna/

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