Midlothian man Alexander Hamilton who caught magpies and hit them over head banned from keeping animals

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He killed some of the birds by clubbing them over the head.

A former gamekeeper who trapped and killed magpies in his back garden has been banned from keeping animals for five years.

Alexander Hamilton, 64, set up three traps to catch the birds at his home before passing the live magpies on to friends to use in their own traps.

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But it was found Hamilton also killed some of the birds he caught when they became sick by clubbing them over the head with a stick.

Hamilton was caught out after a concerned neighbour informed the Scottish SPCA who sent officers out to investigate the practice carried out at his home in Penicuik, Midlothian.

Alexander Hamilton, 64, has been banned from keeping animals for five years.Alexander Hamilton, 64, has been banned from keeping animals for five years.
Alexander Hamilton, 64, has been banned from keeping animals for five years. | Alex Lawrie

During their visit the animal charity inspectors found dead birds in Hamilton’s garden along with several trapped magpies that were said to have been in “a distressed state”.

Hamilton was found to be using Larsen traps which sees a previously caught magpie used as a decoy to attract further birds who see the original bird as an intruder. The use of the traps is legal but the user has an obligation to make sure the decoy birds are provided with adequate food, water and shelter.

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Hamilton appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Tuesday where he pleaded guilty to causing protected animals unnecessary suffering and to striking the birds with a stick causing them to be emaciated and to die at his home, all between July 1 and August 1, 2022.

Prosecutor Karen Rollo told the court Hamilton was a part time gamekeeper and the Scottish SPCA received a call reporting the animal abuse at around 10am on July 29 last year.

Inspectors from the animal charity attended at Hamilton’s home later that day and were allowed access to the back garden where they found two dead magpies.

The court was told the inspectors also discovered three live birds caught in the Larsen and crate traps with one said to be in “a distressed state, dirty and with damaged feathers”.

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Ms Rollo said there was a lack of food, water and shelter provided for the birds which were being kept in the traps as decoys.

The fiscal depute added Hamilton was interviewed under caution by the charity officials and he admitted using the cages “to trap magpies” in his back garden.

Ms Rollo said: “He was asked how he dispatched the birds in the traps and he replied he ‘chapped them over the head’. When asked how, he said ‘I use a stick’.”

Defending solicitor Paul Henderson said his client had stopped trapping the birds in his garden and no longer worked as a gamekeeper and was currently employed as a labourer.

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He said: “When asked why he was catching the magpies in the traps he said he would remove and distribute the birds to his friends and [they were] used in other traps.

“There was no financial gain, this was more of a hobby. Clearly some of the birds died and Mr Hamilton’s position is that once sick he would use a specific stick to dispatch them.”

Mr Henderson said Hamilton owned two gun dogs and asked for any animal ban imposed by the court to exclude those animals.

Sheriff Gillian Sharp sentenced Hamilton to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work in the community and disqualified him from owning or keeping animals, with the exemption of his two dogs, for five years.