Angus case secures first custodial sentence for hare-coursing

A brown hare. Photograph by: Stuart Scott
A brown hare. Photograph by: Stuart Scott

DNA taken from a hunting dog has helped secure the first custodial sentence in Scotland for hare-coursing, at Forfar Sheriff Court today (Thursday, August 11).

Colin Stewart (31), from Aberdeen, was given a custodial sentence of 135 days (89 days still to serve) and disqualified from having the custody of any dog for one year, while a 16-year-old, also from Aberdeen, was given a one year supervision order and disqualification of custody of any dog for a year.

Raymond Higgins (45), from Aberdeen, was fined £400 after all three were found to be using dogs to hunt hares near Kirriemuir in March 2016.

Witnesses reported the hare-coursing to Police Scotland on March 27, providing detailed descriptions of the men and the vehicle used.

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

A post mortem by SAC Consulting: veterinary services confirmed the hare had died from injuries caused by a large predator.

Samples taken from the hare were sent to the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) for DNA analysis, which resulted in one of the dogs’ DNA being identified.

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

Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, of Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division, said: “This is an excellent example of partnership working to secure a conviction. The public have also played a major part in this investigation by providing such detailed descriptions and accounts of the incident.

“Police Scotland is committed to tackling wildlife crime and our detection rates are increasing. 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. And working with partners we will continue to bring those who commit wildlife crime to justice.”

Dr Lucy Webster, Wildlife DNA Forensics, 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 dependents’ dogs – providing very strong evidence to link these men to this specific hare coursing incident.”