I would like you to consider two hypothetical scenarios. Both are crime scenes.
Scenario one: A man walks down a street. He is not carrying a gun. The street is empty apart from a woman walking towards him.
As they pass each other he lashes out, punches her in the face so she falls over. She tries to get up but he kicks her in the ribs, steals her handbag and runs off.
He knows, of course, that he has committed a crime but he is convinced that no-one has seen him. What he does not know is that the entire incident was caught on a CCTV camera which he had not seen. He is clearly identifiable on the CCTV footage.
Scenario two: A man walks across a moor. He is carrying a gun. The moor is empty apart from a hen harrier on a nest. As he closes in on the nest the hen harrier flies. He fires twice. He picks up the hen harrier and walks away.
He is convinced that no one has seen him.
What he does not know is that the entire incident was caught on a remote camera trained on the nest which he had not seen. He is clearly identifiable on the remote camera footage.
We all know there are CCTV cameras all over the place but most of us have no idea where they are. We have more or less come to accept them on the basis that they are there for our protection and to identify criminals.
Most have us have no idea about remote cameras being used in the countryside.
Some are used by naturalists, biologists and professional conservationists to study night-time behaviour of wildlife. Some are trained on protective wildlife, like nesting harriers or golden eagles, to study their behaviour and to gather information about what – or who – might disturb them.
Most of us have no opinion about such cameras because they don’t impinge on our everyday lives.
In both these scenarios, the victims are protected species. It is an offence to punch the woman, to kick her and to steal her bag. The CCTV footage would surely help to secure a conviction.
It is an offence to kill a hen harrier, or even to disturb one at its nest. But recent events suggest that while the CCTV footage would be admissible in court, the remote camera footage at the nest was ruled to be inadmissible, because it was covert.
In other words, the fact that the man who assaulted the woman did not know there was a CCTV camera is his tough luck. CCTV cameras are not always obvious but they are not covert. We all know they are out there.
The man accused of killing the hen harrier did not know there was a remote camera but because the camera’s presence was covert and he could not have been expected to know that the camera was there, no prosecution was allowed.
I now confess that I deliberately misled you in the first sentence. Only the first scenario was hypothetical. I made it up.
You can seen the footage relating to the second on the RSPB website. The man denied killing the bird.
The hen harrier is in the highest category of bird protection law. It is protected under schedules 1 and 1A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
It is also protected under Annex 1 of the EC Birds Directive and for the time being at least, Britain is covered by that directive, the main provisions of which include the following: “The maintenance of the populations of all wild bird species across their natural range with the encouragement of various activities to that end.”
And: “The identification of Special Protection Areas for rare or vulnerable species listed in Annex 1 of the Directive.”
The hen harrier is listed under Annex 1 of the EC Bird Directive.
It has the highest level of legal protection under British and European Law. Yet the law in Britain has refused to accept CCTV evidence which clearly serves the cause of upholding the very raison d’etre of both the EU Bird Directive and the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
The hen harrier has been driven to near-extinction by estate management policies which don’t much care for legislation and which don’t seem to fear the consequences.
And they have just been handed one more reason not to fear the consequences.