1916 court: Gamekeeper in court for fixing illegal traps

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Matthew Pateman, gamekeeper, Ebberston, was summoned at the instance of Inspector Bodeley, RSPCA, for unlawfully fixing a pole trap to cause injury to any wild bird, at Ebberston, on January 18th.

Mr J Whitfield, solicitor, appeared for the defendant, who pleaded not guilty.

Inspector Bodeley, who wore a military armlet, quoted the Protection of Wild Birds Act, 1904, forbidding any such traps. On January 18th Mr Maynard, the agent for the estate, came across a pole trap (the trap with a dead bird attached was produced in court). Pateman had said he did not know he was doing wrong. The case was brought to act as a warning to other gamekeepers in the vicinity, and all through the North Riding.

Anthony Charles Hutton Maynard, agent for the estate on which the trap and bird were found, said he was crossing below Black House, and he saw a pole sticking out. He saw the trap at the foot of the pole with a bird in it. He took possession of it, knowing the setting of such was illegal, and subsequently gave it to the RSPCA inspector.

By Mr Whitfield: Witness was a new agent. He did not know that the pole had been there for sixteen years, and that it had been put there by the owner of the estate.

The clerk: You don’t suggest that the bird has been there sixteen years? (Laughter.)

Mr Whitfield: No, I don’t.

In answer to another question by Mr Whitfield, witness said defendant was a servant of a sub-tenant of a gentleman who had the shooting.

There were, Mr Whitfield said, four gamekeepers on the estate.

Mr Whitfield: Did you make any enquiries about defendant before you ran away to the police?

Witness: I didn’t see it was my duty to do so.

By Mr Whitfield: The trap was not attached to the pole – it was about a foot or eighteen inches from it.

Inspector Bodeley said that he saw defendant on Monday January 24th at Black House, Ebberston. He told defendant who he was and what he was making inquiries about, and defendant said: Well, that is my trap. If anyone had come up here every day they would have seen the trap set. I have never set it since June; and then, it was to catch hawks and other birds for the protection of the pheasant cover, near the wood. I didn’t know I was doing wrong. I have another trap like that set a mile and a half from here, near another cover. I am very sorry. I will take the other trap up and do away with them.” Witness said he then proceeded with defendant to the pole which was about 150 yards opposite Black House. The pole stood about four feet high, it was about seven inches in diameter, slanting round, with the trap just at the foot of the pole. He told defendant he would report him. The bird, a blackbird, had both legs broken, and it would die of starvation.

By Mr Whitfield: He received the bird on January 24th; it was left at Allerston for him by Mr Maynard.

Mr Whitfield: Didn’t he say it was not his trap, it was his master’s? - No.

Proceeding in reply to Mr Whitfield, witness said defendant told him there had been a shoot on the estate shortly before, on the Wednesday.

By Mr Yarborough Anderson, a magistrate: Witness did not caution the man as to any statement he might make being possibly used against him. He did not think it was necessary.

Mr Whitfield contended there was absolutely no case for the defendant to answer for more than one reason. He was charged with fixing a trap on a pole and so forth. There was not the slightest scintilla of evidence that defendant set the trap. The bird could have been put in the trap by anybody mischievously disposed. It was no offence to set a trap of that kind on ordinary ground. What constituted an offence was to set it on a pole.

Defendant, in the box, said he had been a gamekeeper on the estate sixteen years, and no complaint had been made against him. The inspector, on the latter’s visit, asked him if the trap was his property, and he said “No.” The inspector then asked him if he knew anything about it, and he said “Yes, I know the trap. It is my master’s property.”

He told the inspector he did not know how the trap came to be set as he had not set it for three of four months.

He could not say who had set the trap, unless it was some of the beaters. There had been a shoot a little time before and there would be, in all, about 30 beaters. There were four gamekeepers on the estate, and the others had as much to do with that gorse patch on which the trap was as he had.

He never set the trap on January 18th as the summons alleged.

The magistrates after retiring said they thought there was not sufficient evidence to convict, and they thought the public should know it was illegal to set a trap on a pole.

The case was dismissed.