Freeing a fox suffering in a snare was compassion – not a crime

Libby Anderson's avatar
Libby Anderson
13 September 2016

We encourage anyone who finds a snare to report it to our website SnareWatch aims to build the evidence base behind snaring and the impact it has on animals across the UK, and to date we have had hundreds of reports of incidents.

About six months ago a relatively unusual report was submitted. A retired primary school teacher had come across a live fox, trapped in a snare, while she was out walking her dogs near Cobbinshaw Reservoir in West Lothian.  The fox was caught around the abdomen by the steel wire of the snare, and was making desperate attempts to escape.

I spoke at some length to Deborah Sneddon, the dog walker who submitted the report.  She told me of her efforts to get assistance from houses nearby and how eventually she had managed to slip the wire over the fox’s rear end, allowing it to run off.

Deborah assumed that the snare was illegal – many people do not know that these traps are still allowed in Scotland, and are shocked when they find out the truth – and, after freeing the fox herself, she took the snare to pass to the Scottish SPCA. 

A compassionate and understandable response to a horrific situation. Imagine my astonishment, then, when the lead reporter from the Sunday Post called me just two weeks ago, to tell me that the charges against Deborah had been dropped.

What? Charges against a member of the public who had good reason to believe that she had found an illegal trap and informed the authorities of her concerns?

Yes indeed. Incredibly, police officers had arrived at Deborah’s door at 10.30pm one night, shortly after the incident, and charged her with stealing the snare that had trapped the fox.  It had taken months before she learned that the case would not proceed.

Many people – including one well-known retired wildlife police officer – have questioned the approach taken by the police.  We must ask where the public interest is in pursuing a good-hearted citizen who had done her best to help a suffering animal.  As has been pointed out, for a crime to be committed, there must be a “guilty mind” or mens rea, yet quite clearly the opposite was the case here. 

I became even more irate when I read the comment from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association in the Sunday Post report this weekend.  According to the SGA spokesman, snaring is “legitimate” to protect vulnerable ground-nesting species from “abundant” predators such as foxes.  (Presumably the SGA is comforted by the fact that the UK fox population has been in steady decline for at least a decade in that case.)  But are rabbits and hares (the other species that can legally be snared in Scotland) much of a threat to ground-nesting birds?

 In blind disregard of that old innocent-until-proven-guilty mantra, the spokesman opined that Deborah had been treated “leniently” for “committing the offence”. He continued:

“It is highly unlikely the same leniency would have been shown to the operator if he/she had been accused of an alleged offence involving the traps or snares.”

This will astonish the many members of the public, and indeed OneKind staff, who have experienced endless frustration after reporting wildlife offences and seeing cases dropped, despite what seemed like incontrovertible evidence.  In the wake of a horrific case involving two foxes on Glenogil estate in Angus, over 7,000 people have signed an open letter to the Scottish Government calling for a ban on snares precisely because of the law’s failure to protect animals from suffering.

Truly, if the SGA set out to shoot itself in the foot, these prejudiced and arrogant comments did a fine job of it.  I suspect most members of the public will think, as I do, that trying to defend the indefensible by blaming a compassionate individual for doing the right thing, simply shows how out of step the snaring industry is with the rest of us.


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