Archive for August, 2014

31
Aug
14

OneKind supports increased powers for SSPCA, but SLE questions the ‘need’

OneKind logoThe Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind has published its formal response to the public consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers for investigating more types of wildlife crime.

It’s an intelligent and coherent response, in full support of the proposed changes. Interestingly, they’ve provided data (sourced from the Crown Office) which show a startling comparison of successful prosecutions and convictions in animal welfare cases investigated by the police and those investigated by the SSPCA. Unsurprisingly, the SSPCA’s performance is significantly stronger than that of the police; exactly what you’d expect from a specialist agency like the SSPCA.

There’s also acknowledgement of the SSPCA’s long-term experience in investigating crimes against animals (since at least 1912) and a strong rebuttal against the accusation that the SSPCA is ‘unaccountable’.

It’s well worth a read: here.

Meanwhile, the Scottish landowners’ representative body, Scottish Land & Estates, has published its concerns about the proposals (here). These concerns centre on seven questions, including whether there’s a ‘need’ for increased powers because “wildlife crime incident [sic] are now lower than when the idea was first put forward“.

Oh dear. Increasingly desperate scrabbling from SLE – not quite as hysterical as the SGA’s response but nevertheless an indication that the game-shooting lobby would not be happy having an additional 60+ highly trained, highly experienced wildlife crime investigators on the ground. Can’t think why.

Neither SLE or the SGA has published their formal response to the consultation but we look forward to reading them, and the responses of other game-shooting organisations such as the GWCT, when the Scottish Government publishes all the responses later this autumn.

The public consultation closes tomorrow (Monday 1st September). If you want to have your say and influence government policy on how wildlife crime is addressed in Scotland, leading to an inevitable increase in the number of wildlife criminals being brought to justice, please click here.

29
Aug
14

Law Society Scotland supports increased powers for SSPCA

Law Society Scotland logoThe Law Society of Scotland has published its formal response to the consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers to allow them to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes.

In broad terms, the Law Society says it would be ‘appropriate’ for SSPCA Inspectors to be given the proposed powers, given the absence of necessary Police resources to tackle this area of crime.

Jim Drysdale, a member of the Law Society’s Rural Affairs Committee said: “Wildlife crime, such as the poisoning of birds of prey, is a serious issue and causes substantial public concern, and it is imperative that such incidents are fully investigated and prosecuted when they occur. We believe police officers are best placed to deal with such crime, and increasing the presence of uniformed officers in remote areas where these crimes occur will assure the public that combating wildlife crime is being taken seriously.

“However, in the absence of increased police resources we support the proposal for SSPCA officers to be granted the proposed powers, which include the ability to search vehicles suspected of carrying illegal carcasses, protected live animals and birds, and illegal traps or poisons. SSPCA officers would require specialist training and should be accompanied by a witness when exercising their powers under the new legislation. We also believe there should be a review in two to five years’ time to ensure powers are being appropriately enforced”.

It’s a well-reasoned response. Yes, ideally we’d all be happy if Police Scotland could effectively investigate wildlife crime but the evidence demonstrates that they can’t, and so an alternative approach is required. Putting more uniformed police officers “in remote areas where these crimes occur” is wholly impractical – we’d need a uniformed police officer on every driven grouse moor and lowland pheasant/partridge shoot 24 hours a day.

The Law Society also recommends that SSPCA Inspectors should be required to pass an examination prior to exercising the new powers. That’s also a reasonable suggestion and given that SSPCA Inspectors are already exercising similar powers under the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, they shouldn’t have any difficulty passing the test. Perhaps a requirement to pass an examination should also be applied to police officers who have been appointed as Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers and/or Wildlife Crime Officers. Police officers are required to enforce much wider legislation than SSPCA Inspectors and so it stands to reason that they may not have the required specialist knowledge to effectively tackle wildlife crime. Why not enhance their training and then measure their understanding by introducing a specific wildlife crime-related examination before they’re given such a specialist role?

Download the Law Society’s formal consultation response here: Law Society Scotland SSPCA response

27
Aug
14

Petition for increased SSPCA powers handed in to Holyrood

Goddard petition Wheelhouse august 2014A petition calling for increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA was handed over to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse last week, with over 6,000 signatures.

The petition was launched several months ago by Andrea Goddard, a volunteer at the Tollie Red Kite Feeding Station, following the illegal poisoning of 22 raptors (16 red kites and 6 buzzards) in March at nearby Conon Bridge – an incident we’ve termed the Ross-shire Massacre. Five months on, nobody has been charged for this appalling crime.

Great effort, Andrea. Story in the Press and Journal here.

The petition coincided with the long-awaited government-led public consultation on whether the SSPCA should be given additional powers to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes. The consultation closes next Monday (1st September) and the consultation responses will be published on the Scottish Government’s website by 11th October. Following the government’s decision-making, a full report (on the consultation) has been promised although a time-frame for this has not been provided.

We’d encourage as many of you as possible to contribute to this consultation. If the proposal is accepted, we believe it will bring significant improvement to the enforcement of wildlife crime legislation in Scotland, leading to many more offenders being brought before the courts – see here for our reasoning.

If you’d like to take part, please click here.

21
Aug
14

Case against Stody Estate gamekeeper Allen Lambert: part 5

scales of justiceA new trial date has been set in the case against (now former) Stody Estate gamekeeper, Allen Lambert.

At a previous court hearing in December 2013, Lambert, 64, pleaded guilty to storing Mevinphos and Aldicarb pesticides at the Stody Estate in north Norfolk on or about 4th April 2013, as well as storing them without reasonable precautions.

He also admitted a charge of failing to comply with a firearms certificate by poor storage of a .22 Mauser.

He denied further charges including intentionally killing 14 buzzards, a sparrowhawk and a tawny owl between April 1-4 2013, as well as a charge of keeping nine dead buzzards on 4th April 2013.

His trial was previously due to begin in May 2014 but it was adjourned. The new trial date is 1st October 2014.

Previous blogs about this case here, here, here and here.

20
Aug
14

Ross-shire Massacre: five months on

It’s been five months since the discovery of 22 dead raptors (16 red kites + 6 buzzards) near Conon Bridge in Ross-shire – an incident we have termed the Ross-shire Massacre.

Since then, we’ve learned that 16 of these birds (12 red kites + 4 buzzards) were killed after ingesting an “illegally-held poisonous substance“. That information had to be dragged from Police Scotland in June, following some pretty outrageous allegations from the game-shooting industry (and at least one MSP) that the birds had been ‘accidentally poisoned’ by eating contaminated meat at the Tollie Red Kite Feeding Station.

Other than that, Police Scotland has refused to provide any further information, other than to say last month that the investigation “was continuing“.

In June, a member of the public made an FoI request to SASA (the government lab responsible for undertaking the toxicology anlayses on these birds) to ask for the name of the poison(s) and the name of the species affected, amongst other things. He received a reply from SASA on 30th June and he was told that it wasn’t in the public interest to disclose such information. SASA claimed that the public interest test was “outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that the ongoing police investigation is not jeopardised and that incomplete data are not released“. The member of the public submitted a request for a review of this decision and on 24th July 2014 he received a response from Hugh Dignon, a senior civil servant. Mr Dignon upheld the decision made by SASA and added:

By withholding evidence that might, if prematurely released, prejudice a live investigation, we are maximising the likelihood that a conviction could be secured if a prosecution is taken forward“.

Come on, Hugh! There’s not a chance in hell of getting a prosecution, let alone securing a conviction, so many months after the crime took place. Who are you trying to kid? And since when has releasing the name of a banned poison ever jeopardised a live investigation? Er, that’ll be never. SASA has, for years, routinely published the name of the poisons that were used in crimes that are still subject to on-going investigations – why is this case so different? Why all the cloak and dagger? What’s to hide?

Here’s a screen grab of SASA’s latest poisoning data, which relate to toxicology tests undertaken in the first quarter of 2014. The reference circled in red is the information about the Ross-shire Massacre. SASA has redacted all the detail about the type of poison(s) detected (column 4), whether the incident was ‘abuse/mis-use’ etc (column 6), and they’ve even removed the names of the species they’ve tested – preferring to write ‘various’ instead (column 8). Compare and contrast these redactions to the entry at the top of the image, which relates to a poisoned peregrine found in Strathclyde in February – that case is also an on-going police investigation (ahem) and yet we’re allowed to see the name of the poison (Carbofuran), the type of incident (abuse) and the species affected (peregrine). Astonishing, isn’t it?

 SASA Q1 2014 ROSS-SHIRE MASSACREa

For previous posts on the Ross-shire Massacre click here

19
Aug
14

Increased powers for SSPCA would be “disastrous”, says SGA

In March this year, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation on the possibility of giving the SSPCA increased powers to investigate more types of wildlife crime (see here).

This is an important proposal that, if accepted by the government, could have a particular impact on the number of criminals successfully prosecuted for illegally destroying our wildlife, especially those carrying out raptor persecution crimes.

The SSPCA already has statutory powers to investigate some wildlife crimes, but not all. Currently, they are restricted to investigating wildlife crime offences that involve an animal in distress. They have legal powers under the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 to gather evidence and report their findings directly to the Crown Office without needing to involve the police. They are well trained, highly experienced and have a strong track record of helping to bring offenders to justice.

So why are these proposed additional powers needed? That’s simple – if the additional legal powers are implemented it would mean that the SSPCA could also investigate wildlife crimes where an animal has already been illegally killed, or instances where an animal has not yet been illegally killed but is likely to be.

For example, today, if a member of the public found a buzzard hanging in an illegal pole trap (see photo) and called the SSPCA to report it, the SSPCA could ONLY investigate that crime if the buzzard was still alive (suffering/in distress). If the buzzard had already died from its injuries, the SSPCA would not have the authority to investigate the crime and would have to call the police. How stupid is that? The investigation process and procedures would be identical whether the buzzard was alive or dead, but because the buzzard is dead, in law it can’t be categorised as ‘suffering’ because in legal terms a dead animal cannot suffer, and therefore the SSPCA does not have the regulatory powers to investigate. Similarly, if they found another illegal pole trap set nearby (that hadn’t actually caught anything yet), the SSPCA could not investigate that offence – they couldn’t even dismantle the trap – they would have to wait for the police to attend.

Now, if they were given the proposed additional legal powers (under the Wildlife & Countryside Act), the SSPCA would be authorised to investigate any one of the above scenarios.

It’s a no brainer, isn’t it? We all know too well that the police often struggle to investigate wildlife crime, either due to a lack of resources, unavailability of a specialist police wildlife crime officer, or just because senior officers don’t see wildlife crime as a priority. Sometimes the police respond very quickly but more often than not, they can’t attend at short notice which means that crucial evidence is either removed by the perpetrator or it deteriorates to such an extent that it’s no longer useful. Sometimes they don’t even bother to attend at all. The government itself has previously  acknowledged that wildlife crime enforcement by the police can be hit or miss. So why would anyone, with an interest in seeing improved wildlife crime enforcement, object to the addition of 63 fully-trained SSPCA inspectors (at no cost to the tax payer – the SSPCA is funded by SSPCA members – it doesn’t receive any government funding for its work), joining the ranks of those authorised to investigate these disgraceful crimes?

SGA logoWell, surprise surprise, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association objects. The following message was sent out to SGA members earlier this month (via email – interestingly this information has not been posted on the SGA website) –

Dear Member, help us to help you.

In March, Scottish Government issued a consultation on whether more investigative powers should be handed to SSPCA inspectors in suspected wildlife crime incidents.

The SGA believes the granting of more powers to SSPCA would be disastrous and flies in the face of what would be deemed fair and just. Unlike Police, SSPCA are not publicly accountable, have previously sought convictions of gamekeepers with insufficient evidence and campaign to ban snares. They are also critical of rearing game birds for shooting and carry agendas regarding species protection.

Help us to tell Scottish Government loudly and clearly that this move is WRONG.

ALL responses must be made by September 1st, 2014. There is no room for apathy. Please submit your response by clicking this link

Responses can be emailed or sent hard copy. Details of where and how to send are in File attachments. The first File explains the consultation, the second is the one to complete. On question 3 of Respondent Information Form, please respond as an Individual – the SGA will make a separate submission as an organisation.

How we would want people to answer:

Question 1: NO

[Question 1 is: Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to give the SSPCA the powers as set out in section 4.1?]

Question 2: (in your own words but key points are: 1/ how can a charity with a campaigning role against the use of snares be charged with impartially investigating cases involving snares? 2/ The police are accountable to public – charities are not.) Also, If you know of cases poorly handled by SSPCA, please include. 

[Question 2 is: Please set out your reasons for your answer to Q1]

Question 3: N/A.

[Question 3 is: If you would prefer to see changes to the SSPCA’s powers to investigate wildlife crime other than those set out in section 4.1, please describe them]

END

So let’s look at the SGA’s position in a bit more detail. They say that giving increased powers to the SSPCA to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes would be “disastrous“. Disastrous for whom? Disastrous for those carrying out these crimes? Yes, without a doubt! But why would the SGA object? They claim to have a strong interest in fighting wildlife crime, reminding us repeatedly that they are an active member of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime. So how would bringing in more trained, experienced personnel to investigate wildlife crime be “disastrous”? Surely they’d be pleased to see more criminal gamekeepers brought to justice? Wouldn’t they?

They also say that giving increased powers to the SSPCA to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes “flies in the face of what would be deemed fair and just“. Eh? Fair and just for whom? Is it fair and just that criminal gamekeepers keep getting away with their appalling offences? Is it fair and just to society that The Untouchables can continue to illegally destroy our natural heritage without being brought before the courts?

They also say that, “unlike Police, SSPCA are not publicly accountable“. In our experience, the Police are nowhere near ‘publicly accountable’ – repeatedly refusing to account for their inaction or blunders on numerous wildlife crime investigations, hiding behind the old mantra ‘it’s a live investigation so it would be inappropriate to comment’. Besides, the SSPCA presumably has to act within the code of conduct dictated by the Charities Commission or a similar Scottish authority and so they are, essentially, publicly accountable.

They also say the SSPCA “have previously sought convictions of gamekeepers with insufficient evidence and campaign to ban snares“. The first part of this statement reveals a fundamental failure to understand how prosecutions are undertaken in Scotland. As a statutory reporting agency, the SSPCA is authorised to submit a report of an alleged offence to the Crown Office, but it is the Fiscal’s decision alone to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed with a prosecution. The SSPCA (and the police for that matter) do not have the authority to make that decision. So, if, as the SGA claims, previous prosecutions have been attempted with insufficient evidence to support the charge, that’s down to poor decision making by COPFS and nobody else.

The second part of the statement (about the SSPCA campaigning to ban snares) is accurate, but so what? Has this campaigning affected their ability to investigate wildlife crimes that involve snared badgers that have been found in distress? No, of course it hasn’t, so why should it affect their ability to investigate a wildlife crime where a badger has been found already dead in a snare? As discussed above, at the end of the day it’s the Fiscal’s job to decide whether the prosecution should proceed, and that decision will be based on (a) whether a prosecution would be in the public interest, and (b) whether the reporting agency (e.g. SSPCA) has provided sufficient evidence to support the charges. Whether or not the reporting agency also campaigns for a ban on snares is totally irrelevant to the due process of the criminal justice system.

To conclude then, the public consultation for providing increased investigative powers to the SSPCA is due to close on Monday 1st September. That’s a little under two weeks. We strongly support the proposal and have campaigned for three years to get the government to put it on the table. Last year, we calculated that the conviction rate for raptor crime in Scotland was a pathetic 7.3% (see here). Wouldn’t it be good, indeed shouldn’t we expect, that better enforcement measures are introduced to tackle the vast majority of the remaining 92.7% of confirmed raptor crimes? A simple way to address this issue would be to put more trained personnel on the ground, at no cost to the tax payer. You’d have to be pretty stupid, and/or have a vested interest in raptor persecution, not to support this proposal, wouldn’t you?

If you do support the proposal because you’re sick to the back teeth of The Untouchables getting away with the systematic destruction of protected raptors (and other species – including badgers), then here’s your chance to influence government policy:

1. You can participate in the public consultation by downloading the response form from the government’s website (see here), filling it in and emailing it back to them. You can also read the full consultation document through this link.

2. You can also sign this petition, launched earlier this year by a member of the public, calling on the Scottish government to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA. This petition is due to close imminently as it’ll be handed in to the Environment Minister this Thursday (21st Aug) so if you’re going to sign it you need to do it quickly.

Thanks.

19
Aug
14

More poisoned peregrines in North Wales

North Wales Police are appealing for information following the discovery of a poisoned peregrine in June.

The bird was found at a quarry in Penmaenmawr and toxicology tests revealed it had been poisoned with a rodenticide.

It’s possible then that this was the result of an accidental poisoning (as rodenticides can be used under certain controlled conditions), but the death is being treated as suspicious because two years ago a pigeon was found, at the same quarry, smothered in poison and tethered to a rock – obviously placed as a poisoned bait (see here).

Press release from North Wales Police on the latest peregrine poisoning here.

In July this year, four peregrines (3 chicks and 1 adult) were found dead on their nest ledge at a quarry site in the Nantlle Valley, Gwynedd. Police suspect they too had been poisoned (see here).

peregrines x 4 Nantlle valley July 2014




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