ANIMAL welfare groups reacted with fury yesterday after a gamekeeper was fined £150 for using illegal snares.

William Stirratt, 39, set up the outlawed equipment on the Douglas Estate near Glespin in Lanarkshire, owned by the Earl of Home, the son of former Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home, Lanark Sheriff Court heard.

Stirratt, of The Park, Douglas Estate, admitted six charges, which carried a maximum sentence of £25,000, said inspectors from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

He pled guilty to setting up the self-locking snares calculated to cause bodily injury to wild animals between September 1996 and September 1998, using them for the purpose of killing or taking animals, failing to inspect the snares once a day, at the Parish Holme and Urit Hill area of the estate. He also admitted three similar charges in relation to the Cleughs Farm and Threeshire Hill areas of the estate.

He was fined on two charges and admonished on four. Pleas of not guilty to four other charges were accepted by the Crown.

Depute-fiscal Paul Nelson told the court: ”It was ascertained over a period of time that the accused had not been checking these snares every day.”

Defence agent Tom Cruickshank said: “The offences were committed by inadvertence rather than any other reason.

“My client made the self-locking snares himself and saved his employers a considerable sum of money by doing this.

“At the time they were set in such a way that it was unlikely that anything other than a fox would get caught in it.

“This was accidental. As the charges now stand there was no actual harm to animals as a result of this.”

The SSPCA later expressed fury at the result, with investigations officer Jim Cormack suggesting that it was a paltry fine.

The animal charity claimed it gathered evidence showing that foxes, a badger and a roe deer were killed in the traps, and that a fox snared in one of the self-locking traps was rescued by its officers.

The court heard that investigators from the SSPCA had visited the estate and found the illegal snares.

Mr Cormack said: “Sitting in the court I was furious. ‘The whole facts of the matter have simply not come out in court.”

Mr Kenny Wilson, a spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association who advised Stirratt, said the gamekeeper accepted he had made a mistake and was sorry.

Mr Wilson said the fine reflected the seriousness of the offence but maintained the use of snares was a “grey area” in the law, which should be reviewed.

The Justice of the Peace, who has been a magistrate at Lanark for 22 years, argued that self-locking snares were more humane because they killed animals instantly.