Charges against a civil servant, Andrew Struthers, of Kettleshill Farm West Linton in the Scottish Borders, have been dropped after evidence obtained in a farm raid was inadmissible in court.
Remember next time to have a search warrant lads …
The case against a man accused of starving 52 lambs to death has been dropped after a sheriff ruled farm raid evidence was inadmissible.
Rural affairs civil servant Andrew Struthers, 48, of Kettleshill Farm, West Linton, had denied the offence.
Evidence gathered in a raid in the Borders was not allowed as cruelty officers did not have a search warrant.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was "disappointed" with the decision.
Mr Struthers had been charged with causing unnecessary suffering to more than 400 lambs, including the deaths of 52, through neglect between October 2006 and January 2007.
He denied the offence.
Given the level of suffering, the lack of daylight at that time of year and the risk of evidence being lost due to bad weather conditions and scavenging, we still believe the correct actions were taken
His trial began last month but was adjourned for a ruling to be made on the lawfulness of evidence gathered by the SSPCA.
Sheriff John Horsburgh decided he could not allow it to be put before the court.
"It was clear to me that they did not have an adequate knowledge of the various powers, of when a warrant was required, and of the circumstances in which they could act without one," he said.
"The steps they took were accordingly contrary to the law, and the evidence gathered was irregularly recovered."
As a result of his decision the Crown dropped the prosecution against Mr Struthers who works in the agricultural and land services division of the Scottish Government's environment department.
Procurator fiscal Vikki Welton said: "Our office will liaise closely with the SSPCA to see how the legislation should be interpreted.
"This is a bit of a test case in many ways.
"We accept the sheriff's ruling and won't be appealing his decision."
SSPCA spokeswoman Doreen Graham said it was "extremely disappointed" with the outcome.
She said it still maintained its officers had acted correctly.
"The incident occurred shortly after the new animal welfare legislation became law in Scotland," she said.
"Our inspectors' interpretation of the act had already been discussed with the Crown Office and the society was of the opinion that a warrant was not needed to gather evidence in this instance.
"Given the level of suffering, the lack of daylight at that time of year and the risk of evidence being lost due to bad weather conditions and scavenging, we still believe the correct actions were taken."