4 June 2017
Three pole traps were found in an area where a rare hen harrier had been seen.
A 23-year-old gamekeeper was caught in May when a camera hidden by RSPB filmed him checking the ‘barbaric’ traps, which have been illegal since 1904
A gamekeeper on an estate owned by close friends of the Royal Family who set illegal traps to kill protected birds was spared prosecution thanks to a police blunder.
Three pole traps were found in an area where a rare hen harrier had been seen hours earlier on the Mossdale grouse shooting moor in North Yorkshire, which is part-owned by the Van Cutsem family.
A 23-year-old gamekeeper was caught in May last year when a camera hidden by the RSPB filmed him checking the ‘barbaric’ traps, which have been illegal since 1904.
RSPB investigators expected the man to be charged under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, which carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and a £5,000 fine. But the junior gamekeeper, who has not been named, was instead given a police caution after he admitted his guilt.
It is believed he claimed he was not acting under instructions, meaning there was no evidence to charge the estate owners or anyone else with any offence.
A review by North Yorkshire Police later found that the wrong procedures had been followed and it was a mistake not to charge him. Pole traps consist of a spring-loaded plate placed on top of a post.
Metal jaws are triggered to snap shut with force on any bird that lands on the plate, crushing their legs. They are designed to catch hawks, which land on posts to survey surrounding land for prey.
The family of the late businessman Hugh van Cutsem has been linked to the Mossdale estate near Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales National Park for many years.
Mr Van Cutsem, who died aged 72 in 2013, became friends with Prince Charles after they met at Cambridge University in the 1960s.
His sons – Edward, 43, Hugh, 42, Nicholas, 39, and William, 38 – are friendly with Prince William and Prince Harry.
William van Cutsem was out shooting with Prince Harry at Sandringham in 2007 when witnesses alleged they saw two hen harriers being shot.
No bodies of birds were found but the pair were quizzed by Norfolk Police. They denied any wrongdoing and were never charged with any offence.
Robert Benson, chairman of the Moorland Association which represents the grouse shooting industry, said the owner of the estate ‘had made it clear that neither he nor his head gamekeeper knew anything of this illegal and totally unacceptable activity by a junior employee’.
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