The LINK report – comments

Desiccated badger in snare

Desiccated badger in snare

I am the first to admit that the police do not always get it right during any type of investigation and in some cases could have made a better job of certain wildlife crime investigations. The LINK report, however, sets back rather than improves partnership-working. It is distinctly anti-police and criticises police, NWCU, COPFS and the courts, yet unbelievably was completed without any consultation with these organisations.  The report, covering the period 2008 to 2013, is out of date and does not take account of improvements in practices since that period. The content of the report is barely distinguishable from the blog Raptor Persecution Scotland, so much so the reader might think they were written by the same person.

Running through the first part of the report then moving to the second I have picked out some sections for comment:

The four areas of wildlife crime are under-recorded and the standard of information that is recorded is generally inconsistently collected which limits its usefulness’.

Almost all crime is under-recorded, though I accept that crime committed against wildlife in rural areas, particularly uplands, shows only a small proportion of what is actually taking place.  Without consultation with the police and seeing crime reports, how does the author know the ‘standard of information’ that is recorded?  When crime reports are raised they are updated on an almost daily basis with new aspects of the investigation. This allows the OIC, supervisors, crime management and any other officer with an interest to see the state of the investigation, details of any suspects, searches, evidence recovered and lines of enquiry still to be carried out. 

‘At least 27 wildlife crimes (18.2%) did not result in a follow-up investigation and were effectively ignored. It is feasible that as many as one third of reported incidents were un-investigated’

This is supposition but could have been verified or refuted through the crime reports discussed – or the lack of such a report. A missed opportunity for accuracy through not consulting Police Scotland.  There are long-established complaints procedures with the police. I wonder how many of these anecdotal incidents that caused dissatisfaction were made the subject of a complaint?

‘Of the follow-up investigations that did occur, LINK respondents considered just over one third (35.1%) to have been conducted satisfactorily. Criticisms included delayed police response times (sometimes as long as several months from the initial incident report) leading to the disappearance of evidence, delays exacerbated by un-trained police wildlife crime officers and a lack of seriousness with which senior police officers treat wildlife crime, failure to apply for search warrants, failure to conduct covert searches, poorly-targeted and/or restricted search efforts, the premature disposal of evidence prior to toxicology examination and a chronic failure to communicate with partner agencies either as a result of police under-resourcing and/or politically-motivated deliberate exclusion policies’.

The statement LINK respondents ‘considered’ again shows supposition, which could have been verified through consultation with Police Scotland and reference to crime reports. I am not saying that in some cases some of these criticisms may not be justified but lack of consultation with Police Scotland makes them no more than conjecture. There may have been a valid reason, for instance, for not applying for a search warrant or restricting a search. Reasons would be documented on the crime report. I do agree that some senior officers do not treat wildlife crime seriously. This is often in middle management and requires direction from executive officers.

A further paragraph states ‘LINK assists communication between member bodies, Government and its agencies and other sectors within civic society’. There was a distinct lack of communication here.

‘4. THE IDEAL INVESTIGATIVE PROCESS OF A HYPOTHETICAL WILDLIFE CRIME INCIDENT

Before providing a critical assessment of current wildlife crime enforcement procedures, it is perhaps useful to set out LINK’s view of how the investigative process ought to proceed, based on LINK members’ primary experience of investigations and incorporating some of the relevant recommendations made in the Natural Justice report.

The following scenario is a hypothetical (but not uncommon) wildlife crime incident with a brief narrative of the ideal protocol for each stage of the investigative process.

Scenario:

A member of the public witnesses a group of men with dogs and spades, leaving a wood known to house a badger sett. One of the men, who lives locally, is known to the witness. The witness then finds a dead badger close to the sett. The witness, who wishes to remain anonymous and is nervous about speaking to the police, reports the discovery to an NGO’.

The principles in the investigation process are sound and indeed in most cases this is exactly the way a badger-related investigation would be carried out, with the most likely partner involved being Scottish Badgers.  An inaccuracy that would bar a prosecution is found at- 

‘The follow-up options, depending on the available evidence, are a search under powers given to the police under Section 19 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and/or a contemporaneous or subsequent application to the sheriff (via the procurator fiscal) for a search warrant to allow entry to dwelling or lockfast premises for the purpose of obtaining evidence. The crime could be indicative of a continuing pattern of offending so the follow-up action needs to take place as quickly as possible’. 

The application for a warrant would be made under the equivalent section of the Protection of Badgers Act. The crime may indeed be part of a continuing pattern of offending, but if any earlier incident has been dealt with by SSPCA the intelligence on this would not have been passed to Police Scotland and would therefore not be available to NWCU to include in any intelligence package. This is a major failing and a potential impediment to investigation.

‘In both cases the inability to undertake a comprehensive search for evidence to link the crimes to a particular individual or estate meant that there was no further follow-up. Had the first search warrant been issued it may well have prevented the deaths of the two buzzards and second white-tailed eagle. Why both search warrants were refused, in spite of the overwhelming supporting evidence, is utterly bewildering’.

This comment relates to a case in which I was involved in 2008 and where the PF did not proceed with the search warrant applications. Nevertheless what is not recorded here are other innovative lines of enquiry, which I cannot discuss further in a public forum, which were carried out by WCOs and RSPB Investigations. These were unsuccessful but the comment fails to show that the investigation continued despite the absence of search warrants.

‘In addition to inadequate communication between the police and partner agencies, there was widespread concern amongst respondents about the timeliness and quality of publicity relating to wildlife crimes. Clearly, for operational purposes, public information about a follow-up investigation should be restricted until such time that the suspects are aware that a crime has been discovered….’

Publicity, and the timing of such, is always up to the OIC, often under guidance from Crime Management. My own view, subject to any prejudice to the investigation, is that the earlier a press release is circulated the better. That a witness may come forward is unlikely but the press release serves to keep wildlife crime in the public eye.

‘My concerns are with the lack of resources and the changing police force in Scotland, the very light sentencing (if any) and the turning a blind eye of the judicial system (old boys club).’

‘I am concerned about the apparent reluctance of the prosecuting authorities to take action against certain offenders. In my experience I have found the police on the ground to be taking wildlife crime seriously; the problem seems to be rooted higher up the chain somehow. The underlying structure of society with powerful landowners dictating policy and pulling the strings will continue to be a problem for wildlife and habitats’

‘Why isn’t more use made of the SSPCA in investigating wildlife crime? Can we be assured of the objectivity of police investigations especially in the smaller, rural communities in which police and their families have to live? In short, why do the owners of driven grouse moors and their agents seem to enjoy a privileged relationship with those who enforce the law and those who administer justice?’

‘It is well known that the large majority of the shooting estates are operating well outside the law when it comes to so-called predator control, (we all know what that means to a gamekeeper), rampant poisoning, trapping and shooting of raptors and carried out in the full knowledge that the law will do nothing to stop them even if they are caught at it.’

However, there is sometimes a certain lack of trust in wildlife crime officers who are shooters themselves and who are very friendly with gamekeepers.

Some of these comments appear to infer corruption, which is a serious allegation. While some WCOs, fiscals and sheriffs may be less experienced or less competent than others, in my almost 50 years of being involved in the policing of wildlife crime I have never witnessed or suspected corruption. In relation to the last comment regarding a WCO who may also be a shooter, he is in an ideal position to gather intelligence but must exclude himself from any investigation where he is friendly with a suspect.

‘In some parts of Scotland dead raptors that have been found and reported are taken by the police to airports for x-rays to establish if they have been shot. I feel that there should be enough Government funding to support alternative x-ray locations where experts in this field can examine the raptors, without fear of contamination to the evidence and also so that there is better continuity of evidence if a case ever reaches court’.

I must take issue with this comment, which is probably well-meaning but erroneous. I initiated the use of scanners in airports and prisons to save the public purse from expensive vets’ bills for x-rays. Before a victim is taken for examination for poisoning, it is helpful to x-ray it first to see if it has been shot. The x-rays can be photographed and have always been accepted by the fiscal and the courts. They show shotgun or airgun pellets perfectly and also show traces of lead left by a bullet that may have passed right through the victim.  There is no ‘risk of contamination’, and no effect on ‘continuity of evidence’. If the fiscal thinks that an x-ray by a vet might better show the cause of death the victim can be further examined, but this has never been necessary. 

‘With the Police being so short of personnel and resources to deal with raptor (and other wildlife) crime it would seem sensible to recruit the assistance of SSPCA. By giving the SSPCA extra powers it would substantially increase the efficiency of the Police in enforcing wildlife crime law.’

In relation to extra powers and more involvement from the SSPCA I read an interview of Mike Flynn in The Courier around the beginning of February. In the interview Mike stated that the SSPCA staff was at full stretch. In view of that comment it seems unlikely that they will be able to take on an expanding role.

‘I am concerned by the lack of input by NWCU into priority cases (except CITES). NWCU is a nonentity in Scotland, with Investigative Support Officer now just an office boy.’

‘From what I can gather the NWCU seem to be totally focused on gathering ‘intelligence’, partnership working, and designing ‘apps’. What a waste of time they are. Do they do any fieldwork or investigations? Obviously not otherwise we would never have heard the end of it. Talking about partnerships, they don’t seem to put into practice what they preach. Do they work in partnership with RSPB and SSPCA and the expertise available in these organisations? One final observation but a very important one is the collation and recording of wildlife crime statistics. Obviously there are a lot of raptor persecution incidents and it is vital that we record each and every one. Otherwise there would not be a problem of persecution. So who should record such incidents? Knowing the Police way of recording incidents, they will not record a crime unless they can prove that there is in fact a crime. This is the basis of all forms of their crime recording, whether it is assault, robbery, vandalism etc. Wildlife crime will be no different. So there will be numerous wildlife incidents not recorded as they, the Police, cannot prove that there is an actual crime’.

These are obviously comments from someone who knows nothing about the NWCU. Again it is supposition and conjecture which could have been explained with consultation. Like Police Scotland and COPFS, NWCU was left out of the consultation process. The NWCU only has one investigative support officer in Scotland. He is involved in almost every major case – not just CITES – provided he is asked. In one major raptor investigation he and the then force’s most experienced wildlife crime officer were not asked to become involved. Had they been present, subsequent failings in the investigation may have been averted. So far as involving RSPB, SSPCA or any other partner, this is not the remit of the NWCU, but is the remit of the investigating police officer. One of the main functions of the NWCU is the collation and utilisation of wildlife crime intelligence. SSPCA submit no intelligence to NWCU! The comment states: ‘ Obviously there are a lot of raptor persecution incidents and it is vital that we record each and every one.’ The police do not record an incident as a crime unless it can be substantiated as such. However ‘incidents’ are recorded as intelligence and there is a clear failure of some NGOs, including SRSG, in passing details of incidents to Police Scotland or NWCU. Some of the NGOs may even have signed up to intelligence-sharing protocols with the police yet have submitted little or nothing. This missing intelligence could cause an investigation to fail, so all the blame for the small number of cases reported for prosecution cannot be laid on the police.

‘In recent years the activity has been reduced to tiny numbers of collectors. Jail sentences handed out for repeated offences seem to have persuaded almost everyone to abandon the behaviour. Much of this can be attributed to the success of Operation Easter – a campaign led by the police, but also using the expertise provided by the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and the RSPB. It continues to target egg collectors by sharing intelligence and monitoring their activities, as well as raising public awareness of suspicious behaviour. This excellent example of good partnership working began some 17 years ago, and, alongside the imposition of custodial sentences for the worst offenders, has had the result of reducing the numbers of active egg thieves to a tiny rump of obsessive individuals.’

This operation has been successful due to availability of imprisonment and the real risk of being caught due to all UK police forces and RSPB working together. I have run Operation Easter for almost all of the time since its inception and I am pleased it was thought worthy of mention in this report. The principles of the operation would not work across the spectrum of wildlife crime but could be successful with badger baiting and badger digging. It would not be suitable for raptor-related crime.

 

Recommendation 1: Government and the wildlife NGOs should urgently discuss, agree and introduce measures to address under-recording; improve the standards for reporting; and introduce consistency across all areas of recording wildlife crime.

There is no doubt that the recording of wildlife crime needs to be improved to allow full extent of this criminality to be realised. I would have though this should be addressed by the Scottish Government and Police Scotland.

Recommendation 2: A three-tier classification system should be introduced for use by all agencies, assigning a widely agreed and accepted “confirmed”, “probable” or “possible” category to each wildlife crime case, and grading information according to established police systems.

A crime report should be completed for every confirmed wildlife crime. This can also be done for a ‘probable’ crime, which can be deleted if there is subsequent evidence that the incident turns out not to be a crime. It is much more difficult under an official system to record ‘possible’ wildlife crimes, which in effect are no more that incidents at that stage. Nevertheless there are other means by which to record incidents, namely by the submission of intelligence to Police Scotland or NWCU.

Recommendation 3: The Wildlife Crime Annual Reports should include, henceforth, an evaluation of the full extent of wildlife crime in Scotland.

Recommendation 4: Police Scotland should review the full complement of Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers (WCLOs) and Wildlife Crime Officers (WCOs) in terms of the basic number of whole-time-equivalent officers dedicated to this area of work. The basic complement dedicated to this area of work as its priority should be stated publicly, and used as a baseline – to be increased if it proves ineffective.

I would like to see a full-time WCLO in each Division and for all to be able work together as a unit under a sergeant or inspector. If they had a Scotland-wide remit this would address the issue of an urgent wildlife crime not being dealt with there and then because of the absence of the local WCLO or WCO(s).

Recommendation 5: The complement of WCLOs and WCOs should be rigorously targeted by Police Scotland at the areas where wildlife crime is known to be greatest. Consideration might be given to the feasibility of establishing a national wildlife crime rapid response unit, to be comprised of multi-agency partners who could respond to reports of serious wildlife crime.

It would be up to the OIC the investigation as to whether partners would be involved at any stage of the investigation. Nevertheless there is merit in many cases in the police having the assistance of partners experienced in particular fields. It is a system which I regularly utilised, particularly requesting RSPB Investigations staff for land searches.

Recommendation 6: Police Scotland should agree a wildlife crime strategy, in consultation with the wildlife NGOs. The strategy should be intelligence led and carefully targeted at the areas of criminality.

The most successful investigations emanate from good intelligence. It is disappointing that, with few exceptions, particularly Scottish Badgers, little or no intelligence is submitted to Police Scotland or to NWCU by NGOs. 

Recommendation 7: Police Scotland should improve the basic wildlife crime training modules for all police cadets at the Scottish Police College and ensure compulsory, on-going training for all appointed WCLOs and WCOs.

There are no longer police cadets. Training for recruits on wildlife crime (and some other aspects of policing) have been reduced or discontinued at the Scottish Police College due to funding issues. Annual training for WCLOs and WCOs has been ongoing for nearly 20 years.

Recommendation 8: The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) should urgently investigate why such a high percentage of cases fail to be prosecuted, and review arrangements for the allocation of its resources and training.

Recommendation 9: Follow-up investigations of wildlife crime by Police Scotland should be carefully monitored by COPFS and the expertise of partner organisations should be consistently and fully used. Results of investigations should be fed back to complainants.

It makes sense that any expertise of partner organisations should be utilised. I agree totally that complainants should be updated. This was a failing of mine and probably is one of the most common failings in policing, though not for any reason of keeping the complainant out of the loop.

Recommendation 10: The Wildlife Crime Annual Reports should include cumulative figures for prosecutions brought and the resultant rate of convictions.

Recommendation 11: Stiff sentences should be asked for by COPFS to allow for proper consideration of deterrent effect by the courts, and the consistency of sentencing should be carefully monitored by the appropriate authority.

Recommendation 12: The Scottish Government should urgently institute confidence building measures and improved partnership working between Police Scotland, COPFS and the wildlife organisations, with clear instructions that the latter are not to be excluded from the process of investigation or prosecution, and their expertise and information sources should be properly and fully utilised in the fight against wildlife crime.

Confidence-building measures and improved partnership-working may be more difficult considering Police Scotland and COPFS were not consulted during the preparation of the LINK report! The input from partners is important for the success of many investigations and in fact few wildlife crime investigations are carried out by the police without advice or assistance from at least one partner. This input is necessary and sensible and does not need ‘instructions.’

Recommendation 13: If the partnership approach is to continue, the Scottish Government should commission research to assess the true extent of the different types of wildlife crime in Scotland and remove any group tainted significantly by association with any area of wildlife crime from PAWS.

This is a hint at removing land management groups from PAW Scotland. This recommendation discounts the members of these organisations that are law-abiding and keen to reduce wildlife crime.  Police officers are regularly ‘Piggy in the middle’, being accused regularly by land management of siding with RSPB and SRSG, and by RSPB and SRSG of siding with land management. In effect police officers are – or should be- unbiased. Those involved in land management who commit wildlife crime are a disgrace and need to be dealt with. By the same token members of NGOs who try to discredit the police, COPFS and the courts as being corrupt or involved in conspiracies are no better and do the investigation of wildlife crime a great disservice.

Recommendation 14: The Scottish Government should, immediately remove poaching from the PAWS remit and deal with it a as a distinct and separate matter.

This recommendation links in with the previous one as hitting out at land management. Deer poaching, salmon poaching and hare coursing are the most commonly reported wildlife crimes, with one of the main issues being animal welfare concerns.

Recommendation 15: The Scottish Government should ensure that preventative measures are assessed rigorously – and targeted effectively.

Recommendation 16: The Scottish Government should consider how wildlife crime might become a material consideration within the land reform programme, and how it can be made into a major element within the statutory Land Use Strategy.

Recommendation 17: The Scottish Government should consider how any wildlife crime directly connected to land use on a specific piece of land might lead, consistently, to the withdrawal of subsidies associated with land ownership – and should publish, in its annual wildlife crime reports, a summary of Single Farm Payment and other penalties imposed as a result of wildlife crime.

Recommendation 18: The Scottish and UK Governments should consider how any wildlife crime directly connected to a land use on a specific piece

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