POLICE are no longer investigating the unsolved case of the poisoning of birds of prey in Ross-shire which made national headlines three years ago.
Confirming that the case is now closed, Police Scotland has said the investigation into the deaths of 12 red kites and four buzzards in the Conon Bridge area during March and April 2014 is no longer active due to the three-year time bar on these offences.
The birds were poisoned by pesticides Carbofouran, Aldicarb and Carbosulfan, which are all banned under UK-wide legislation.
Police say the case has been regularly reviewed and all lines of enquiry explored, and it is believed the birds were the unintended victims of illegal pest control.
The discovery of 22 dead birds led to police raids on local farms, a public demonstration and a petition calling for action.
In October of that year Police Scotland issued a statement saying that 16 of the birds – 12 red kites and four buzzards – were most likely not targeted deliberately.
In the latest statement on the case Divisional Commander Chief Superintendent Philip Macrae expressed disappointment that the individual or individuals responsible for the deaths of the birds had not been brought to justice.
He said: "Every line of enquiry has been explored as part of our investigation into the deaths of these birds of prey, including large scale searches and a detailed investigation by CID and Wildlife officers. We liaised closely with a number of partners including the National Farmers Union (NFU), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) as well as the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
"The enquiry has been regularly reviewed for any new lines of enquiry and it is therefore very disappointing that there has been insufficient evidence to progress this case any further."
Police Scotland has worked with multiple partners, conducted significant enquiries led by CID officers, undertaken land searches led by Police Search Advisors and carried out by specialist officers from the Operational Support Unit.
A Police Dog trained in detecting pesticides was also used during the searches. A £27,000 reward for information was offered by partners, however the case remains unsolved.
Detective Inspector Scott Macdonald who led the enquiry said: "I remain convinced, based on the advice of partners involved in the investigation, that the bait was laid for illegal pest control and not specifically to target the birds of prey, however they became the unfortunate victims of this illegal act.
"Using illegal pesticides is wholly unacceptable; it poses an indiscriminate danger to humans and wildlife alike. Although this case is no longer active, we continue to take the use of illegal pesticides seriously and I would encourage anyone with information to come forward to Police Scotland or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for RSPB Scotland, said: "This appalling incident should act as a warning to anybody contemplating using illegal poisons in the countryside as to the possible risks to red kites and other vulnerable wildlife.
"We look to individuals and businesses who may still hold stockpiles of banned pesticides to dispose of these chemicals safely following the advice of the public authorities. We thank the police for their thorough efforts in investigating this case, and also to all parties who offered up a reward for information leading to a conviction.
"We call on members of the public to remain vigilant and provide any information on the illegal killing of red kites and other raptors to the police."