I was interested in a blog on Raptor Persecution UK the other day. Questions had been asked of Police Scotland as to why certain information on raptor crime was missing from the RSPB Birdcrime’s 2015 report, (which I blogged about on 7th February). The response from Police Scotland is quoted as being:
‘Primarily, the Police Scotland concern is about specialist knowledge becoming public knowledge in these cases. Police Scotland actually withholds the data from publication in relatively few cases and only after consideration against the agreed investigative strategy for a particular case. If Police Scotland is to make an appeal for information about a bird of prey killing and has chosen not to identify the substance as part of the strategy (or even identify that poisoning was the cause of death) this would be undermined by the identification of the chemical used in a public document. It would not take too much initiative to put the two together and that specialist knowledge tool is lost. A similar argument is equally as legitimate where other modus operandi (MO) are used in this form of raptor persecution.
On occasions, the decision is made not to make an investigation public at all for a variety of reasons (time of year, other ongoing investigations etc.). Publication of pesticide data or MO by HSE, RSPB or whoever else would ensure that Police Scotland loses control over this tool.
Differences in the legal system in Scotland is also another issue. The time bar for bringing wildlife crimes to court in Scotland is (in most cases) three years from the date of the offence. Police Scotland therefore expect to be able to legitimately withhold information relating to cases for that time period. This argument was supported by a specialist prosecutor from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit who also thought that this was particularly relevant in Scotland because we still have a requirement for corroboration.
Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by forces in England and Wales but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures that we must ensure that we use every tool available and therefore on occasions this will include withholding information about a crime’.
I have no idea of why these particular details are missing but some of the readers of the Raptor Persecution blog are clearly making the assumption that the police are involved in some sort of collusion with raptor killers. Excerpts from some of the comments are:
‘That’s a pretty verbose excuse for complacency, indolence and corruption’
‘The only conclusion I can make from Police Scotland withholding such information is collusion with the criminals’.
‘…they intend to orchestrate cover ups’
‘…the Police have picked a side and it isn’t with us but the shooters’.
‘The only possible reason Police Scotland could have for withholding data and information that they don’t intend to use in court is to protect the interests of certain shooting estates and their owners’
Whatever the reason for withholding certain information it will not be for any corrupt purpose.
I agree with the Raptor Persecution blog that the police should publish details of raptor crime at every opportunity, and at the earliest date possible provided it does not jeopardise any future court proceedings. That is not being done and in my view that is a failing of Police Scotland. The police should also take the lead with media releases. I frequently see reports of incidents where the lead for the story has been RSPB and there is no quote from the police. RSPB and others can often add valuable information to a media release but it should be clear that the investigation is being carried out by the police.
With cases of pesticide abuse there is always a risk to anyone encountering a poisoned bait or the victim of a bait, which makes a media release even more important. Several years ago a couple of teenage girls picked up a dying buzzard on the roadside bordering Edradynate Estate near Aberfeldy in Perthshire. The buzzard had been sick and the breast feathers were wet. As it turned out the bird had been poisoned by the pesticide alpha-chloralose. Had it been the much more toxic and more commonly used pesticide carbofuran the girls would have been in real danger.
Another person commented,
‘…if anyone finds something suspicious regarding raptor crime, make sure you tweet it and tag in as many people as possible before calling the cops’.
The naivety of this comment is of real concern, and the outcome of such action is likely to alert the criminal involved long before any investigation can be made. It’s a pity this comment had not been countered on the blog.
I am not sure what to make of the blog Raptor Persecution UK. The principle is excellent and allows a wider range of the public to be alerted to raptor-related crime than would otherwise be the case. It also delves into different aspects of criminality that most folks wouldn’t have the time or in many cases the knowledge to explore themselves. I just wish it wasn’t so anti-police, anti-COPFS and anti-judiciary. It is clear how this rubs off on some of its more easily influenced readers and may well put them off reporting an incident to the police that may just provide a vital link in an investigation.
Another extremely worrying comment was,
‘The police are the enemy right now’.
It is worth remembering that the police are in support of almost all of Raptor Persecution UK’s readers (and hopefully the readers of this blog). I am sure this is especially so of the hundred or so officers in Scotland who have been trained in wildlife crime investigation, some of whom have been desperate for years to get raptor killers before a court.