A man has been jailed for two months for deliberately killing an otter near Dorchester.

Stuart Karl John Jones, aged 54 and of Chilthorne Domer near Yeovil, was sentenced after pleading guilty to deliberately killing a wild animal of a European protected species, namely a Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), contrary to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. He also pleaded guilty to an offence of using a trap for the purpose of killing, taking or restraining a wild animal listed on Schedule 6 contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

He was sentenced to two months in prison at Bournemouth Crown Court on Friday 6 March 2020.

Between Monday 8 July and Tuesday 9 July 2019 a man fishing on one of the lakes at a Caravan Park and Fishery in Cerne Abbas was seen to catch an otter in his landing net after the otter swam toward the bank. The man called out for Jones, who owned the park at the time, to be informed.

Jones was then seen to approach the net with a rifle and shoot the otter while it was still inside. He discarded the body in the woods behind another large fishing lake.

Members of the public staying in the park at the time had also seen a cage trap attached around one of the feed pipes into the lake.

On Friday 12 July 2019 the UK Wild Otter Trust contacted Dorset Police after receiving reports from the public about the otter being shot. Officers from the Dorset Police Rural Crime Team attended the site and seized the trap which was still attached to the pipe.

A search of the large woods surrounding the site was made and the body of a deceased otter was located. A veterinary post mortem revealed the otter was male and aged between 10 months and two years old. He had trauma to the back of the skull with shards present consistent with a high velocity rifle.

Jones was later interviewed and stated he had shot an animal at point blank range to its head while it was still in the net, but he could not be sure it was a mink or an otter. At the time Jones had a firearms licence for a .22 rifle.

Despite Jones saying he did not know if the animal was an otter or a mink, a witness took a photograph when the animal was caught in the net that showed it was an otter. Jones had also been heard to talk about the presence of otters around the site. He stated in interview he had an issue with an otter, or similar animal, so had set the cage trap in order to catch it.

The UK Wild Otter Trust assessed the trap and confirmed it was set for an otter and not a mink. The UK Wild Otter Trust are the only organisation in the UK that can legally and humanely trap otters for safe release from fisheries, providing they are fenced for protection to begin with.

Following the sentencing, Dave Webb, founder and chair of the UK Wild Otter Trust, said: “This sentence demonstrates that the illegal persecution of any protected species will not be tolerated and heavy penalties will be handed out.

“We are pleased to see the outcome for this particular case, and by working together with Dorset Police, we are very happy that Jones has been brought to justice and will now pay the price for his crime. The UK Wild Otter Trust is pleased to have played a part in securing a conviction for this terrible crime against a highly protected species.

“We will always act on any alleged illegal activity reported to us and look to prosecute where possible, especially when crimes such as this are committed in order to protect profit when there are legal, humane options available. We hope that this sentence sends out a powerful message to those that may think it’s acceptable to cruelly kill an otter.”

Police Constable Claire Dinsdale, the Wildlife Crime Officer for Dorset Police who attended the site, said: “Jones denied the allegation of killing an otter on our arrival and consequently I spent time searching a large area of woodland adjacent to the lakes looking for the body of the animal.

“The cage trap used had no support and it is highly likely any otter entering the trap would have drowned. Otters have the highest level of protection under UK and European legislation and this is there for a reason.

“I would urge anyone with a fishery business who has concerns regarding otters to make contact with the Angling Trust, which has predation advisors that can visit your sites.

“Anyone committing offences against otters could receive a prison sentence. We are very grateful for the evidence given by all the witnesses, including expert evidence from the vet David Holah, Dave Webb from UK Wild Otter Trust, the ecologist Lee Jenkins, and for the guidance of our specialist CPS Wildlife Prosecutor Mark Gammon.

“Results such as this would not be possible without members of our communities reporting information. We would encourage anyone with information on any wildlife crime issue to contact their local police force or Crimestoppers.”

If a crime is in progress, call 999. Anyone with information can contact Dorset Police at www.dorset.police.uk, via email [email protected] or call 101. Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

For more information on wildlife crime visit the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s website at www.nwcu.police.uk.

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