Former NWCU head has ‘significant concerns’ over increased SSPCA powers

Nevin Hunter by A MidgleyThanks to the contributor who sent us the following article that was published in the Police Oracle yesterday:

A spate of raptor poisonings could motivate politicians to hand a charity powers that have traditionally been the sole preserve of police officers.

The Scottish government is consulting on radical plans to give the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) the ability to stray beyond its remit and probe reports of traps and dead wildlife rather than simply investigating the mistreatment of live animals.

The government says a shortage of officers in rural areas means Police Scotland is often unable to deal effectively with incidents in remote locations where there are few or no witnesses – like the mass poisoning of red kites, buzzards and other birds of prey in the Highlands.

Legislative changes would allow SSPCA investigators to enter land other than dwellings or locked premises, examine any object and seize potential evidence without a warrant and without reference to specific animal welfare law.

They would have the ability to search vehicles suspected of carrying illegal carcasses, protected live animals and birds and illegal traps or poisons.

Possible new powers could also include granting the charity’s inspectors the right to enter private homes with a warrant to seize potential evidence.

Police concerns

If you give a charity the same powers as police, they would have to have the same level of accountability and transparency.

The proposed changes are strongly backed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which cited a recent case in which no one was convicted after 16 red kites and six buzzards were illegally poisoned in Ross-shire.

The organisation’s head of investigations in Scotland has suggested that police teams are often too over-stretched to investigate this type of crime with thoroughness.

However, Nevin Hunter, the former head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said he had “significant concerns” about the Scottish government’s proposals, adding: “If you give a charity the same powers as police, they would have to have the same level of accountability and transparency. That is the issue, because they are not as accountable.”

Legal experts have raised concerns too, saying the job of investigating wildlife crime should ideally be done by warranted police officers.

Jim Drysdale, a member of the Law Society of Scotland’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 police officers in remote areas where these crimes occur will assure the public that combating wildlife crime is being taken seriously.”

He said that in the absence of increased police resources he supported the proposals, provided SSPCA officers were accompanied by witnesses when exercising their powers.

He added: “We also believe there should be a review in two to five years’ time to ensure powers are being appropriately enforced.”

Conflicts of interest?

The Scottish government’s consultation document outlines advantages and disadvantages of the plans.

Potential benefits include a more robust response to wildlife crime at no extra cost to the public purse.

However, the document points out a potential conflict of interest between SSPCA’s use of broader powers and its political campaigning on issues like snaring, airguns and fireworks.

Under law the SSPCA has “specialist reporting” status, meaning it can make reports to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which then decides whether to prosecute.

This contrasts with the situation in England and Wales, where the SSPCA’s equivalent, the RSPCA, has brought private criminal prosecutions that have been criticised by some commentators as overly politicised.

Police Scotland insists it is committed to dealing with wildlife crime, adding: “We are actively engaged in the process around proposed extra powers for the SSPCA and as this is an ongoing consultation it would be inappropriate for us to comment more at this time.”


It’s not clear whether Nevin Hunter’s views are shared by the new head of the NWCU (Hunter retired in July and has been replaced by Martin Sims, due to start in Sept/Oct). Hopefully the new head will be a bit more forward-thinking and a bit more willing to find ways of improving wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland. There’s an obvious problem, and it’s been there for decades, as evidenced by the pathetic wildlife crime conviction rates and the Government’s launch of this consultation. All this guff about ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘unaccountablity’ is, frankly, clutching at straws. As we’ve commented previously, the SSPCA have been investigating some wildlife crimes for a long, long time, resulting in some significant convictions for badger-baiting, illegal snaring etc. Their “political campaigning” about a ban on the use of snares doesn’t seem to have affected their success, nor their investigative professionalism. Have you ever heard anyone question their status when they’ve helped bring those criminals to justice? No, nor have we, so why all of a sudden, when there’s a chance to go after the raptor killers, is it being raised now?

As for police accountability and levels of transparency, the final sentence of the article says it all.  Just remove the word ‘consultation’ and insert the word ‘investigation’ and you’ve got the standard response every single time the police and NWCU are asked to explain their actions/inactions. The SSPCA would be hard pressed to be any less transparent and any less accountable than the NWCU and Police Scotland.


23 Responses to “Former NWCU head has ‘significant concerns’ over increased SSPCA powers”

  1. 1 Libby Anderson
    September 2, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    The SSPCA will keep out of this debate for reasons of propriety, I assume, and I can’t speak for the charity. But I did work there for 10 years and feel I can offer a personal view.

    1. The SSPCA already works with the police (and with local authorities, AHVLA, SGRPID etc) and has done for years and years.
    2. The SSPCA already has these exact powers for domestic animal cases under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
    3. The SSPCA already has rigorous internal procedures for investigations and is accountable to the Crown Office, by way of its reporting agency status, and to OSCR, as a charity which must pass the “public benefit” test if it wants to stay on the register.
    3. Responding to government calls for evidence or press inquiries and expressing a policy position informed by experience is not political campaigning.

    I am sure many police officers know all this and must be surprised at the “significant concerns” now being raised.

  2. 2 Dougie
    September 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    “Police concerns

    If you give a charity the same powers as police, they would have to have the same level of accountability and transparency.”

    Are they having a laugh …………… accountability and transparency. Hellish litttle evidence of it. Just weasel words.

  3. 3 Dave
    September 2, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    I have reservations about it, based on previous experience with SSPCA inspectors. However that was 15+ years ago and before the 2006 Act. I suspect their professional practice has improved in those years. And, as the Police do not seem to have the resources or will to properly investigate wildlife crime, short of a national Investigatory Unit under another agency, this seems to be the best bet.

  4. 4 nirofo
    September 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    It seems to me and no doubt very many others that where wildlife persecution, in particular Raptor persecution on the shooting estates is concerned, the police have had every opportunity to do what they are paid to do without being coerced by higher powers to sit back and either do nothing or wait until all possibility of obtaining meaningful evidence, let alone an arrest has gone. If the police had been more inclined to pursue these wildlife criminals with the same vigour they pursue many other lesser misdemeanours, then maybe there wouldn’t be any necessity to involve the SSPCA who are well known for obtaining successful prosecutions for crimes against wildlife.

    The fact that the police are now crying wolf is no doubt an attempt from certain interests above to persuade the Scottish government that pursuing wildlife persecution should be left up to them, leaving them with the position of status quo. Well we all know where leaving it up to them got us, the highest level of Raptor persecution for years with hardly a single successful prosecution, time for the police to move aside and assist the SSPCA in their enquiries !!!

  5. September 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Agree with Dougie on that – not seen much accountability or transparency over their lamentable record over wildlife investigation, when they are not working with SSPCA or RSPB….and to talk about the “traditional” role of the police as wildlife investigators?..That really made me laugh – we never saw them until the early 1990s [a mere 20 years ago] and that only after the RSPB highlighted the amount of crime taking place by investigating on its own.

  6. 6 Mr Greer Hart, senior
    September 2, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    I am one of those who added to the support for the SSPCA getting extra powers to help stem the slaughter of our birds of prey. My details and comments were sent to the Scottish Government, and I got a standard acknowledgement back, which was full of the cliches, and the usual quote about how much Scotland is in gratitude for the £250 million contribution shooting estates contribute to the economy, and how our rural areas benefit by the employment created by them. In other words, the oppressive regime that manages a good part of our countryside has justified their freedom to do as they please, and perfectly legal reintroductions of once lost species of birds of prey, can be destroyed with almost impunity, due to a seeming indifference to enforce the law from police to judge. That is how it appears to an increasingly enraged public. We seem to be guaranteed that whether it is a YES or a NO vote that wins in the Referendum, the same centuries old hierarchy will be running the show in Scotland. Does everyone involved in protecting our countryside and in restoring its lost biodiversity appreciate that statement? We have always faced a powerful “conspiracy”, from the Royal Family down to the lowest gamekeeper, whose main activity in life is to shoot grouse or stalk deer. We have even pretty young women from the City, who have made mini-fortunes, turn up in the media regaled with a gun to shoot wee birds. It seems that is what one does, when one wants to meet the right people!

    The alternative to fighting for our birds of prey and other creatures described as “vermin”, is to take the combined donations of the RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust etc and give it to the shooting estate owners for “managing” our birds of prey, and in return, being given their guarantee to maintain an acceptable number of such birds to maintain genetic diversity. What we are doing just now is playing keystone cops, chasing around the wild places looking for those who have poisoned, shot or snared Eagles, Harriers, Buzzards, Kites, etc. The subsidies given to such estates would have a condition on that as well. That way, we could call their bluff about their being the real guardians of the fabulous countryside they have given us. If they failed, then others could be hired, to attempt to meet the conditions set, as we find in the real world of business management, and that is what the shooting industry is, a business that has to show a profit. Failure to do so, means going bust or getting the public purse to subsidise the activity.

    Perhaps reintroductions should be suspended or even discontinued, if the response from our law enforcement system is not proving successful in giving prison sentences and heavy fines. Just let the baddies win and let our skies be bereft of our acrobatic birds of prey. If the centre appears not to be holding, then the battle is being lost. Well, let us wait and see what effect the 6,000 signature petition has had, along with the consultees’ comments on giving extra powers to the SSPCA. As an animal welfare and conservation radical, I think the whole mob in power needs replacing, and Scotland given control over to those who know how better to manage it, and create revenue and jobs at the same time. Whatever takes over after the Referendum, it is to that regime, that the battle must be taken, as a revolution will be needed to save our endangered countryside from the follies and crimes that are taking place there at present.

    Every country in the world is facing the loss of species and environmental disruption and consequent degradation. A great extinction is taking place. World population increases will make living space a priority, and many protected areas will be lost. The world climate could change for the worse, and vast areas be subject to drought or continual flood. The supply of food and raw material resources could be fought over, and standards of living fall, with the rationing of energy, water and food. North Korea could become a paradise! It need not be so, if sensible policies were adopted as a world wide conservation plan. Scotland has a wonderful opportunity to create a model of how to manage a wild landscape, with a population that is involved in its protection and making decisions as to what activities are allowed to be carried out. I have been sponsoring projects in Africa and South America, which involve local schools and indigenous groups, in education programmes that impart the know-how on how to save the environment for humans and wildlife. For too long have we ignored our rural communities, and allowed them to lose their young people and essential services. A whole new “science” should be developed that would create a new generation of people who would manage the rural areas in a more effective way. We must intertwine conservation with the needs of the local people. We have had the dark cloud of a hegemony over us for far too long.

  7. 7 secret shooter
    September 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    So if I report a wildlife crime to a Police officer who fails in their duty to investigate it then I can make a complaint against that officer to the force. That complaint is investigated by the force and can result in anything from words of advice to dismissal. If you have no faith in the force themselves you can choose to make a complaint to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner who will supervise the manner in which your complaint is handled. If the conduct you are complaining of does in itself amount to criminal behaviour (perhaps passing personal data to third parties) then a criminal investigation will be undertaken and if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute then an internal disciplinary investigation will follow. There are some criminal offences such as misconduct in a public office or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice that in general are little used but do seem to be favoured when considering criminal charges against Police officers suspected of criminal behaviour.
    It is more likely perhaps that your complaint will relate more to the approach of the force rather than the activity or non activity of individual officers. No problem you can also make complaints against the force instead of individual officers. It is quite likely that whatever sort of complaint you make you will be consulted on what might be an appropriate sanction. The force may not act on your opinion but they will consider it. Whatever the outcome of the investigation into your complaint you will be informed.

    Some will say that the system of Police complaints is flawed and inadequate. Fortunately there are further steps that you can take, perhaps seek the help of your MP or MSP – they are often very happy to wade into the Police. The more vocal and determined of us may take our concerns to the government, if we have deep pockets we might consider a judicial review or even consider lodging a complaint with the EU to the effect that the UK are not meeting the requirements of the bird directive.

    So that very briefly is the position with the Police. Let us now compare that with the position of SSPCA Inspectors. What happens if an Inspector fails in there duty or we have a grievance against the society. Err, umm no sorry can anybody help me out. The internet abounds with stories of those who have grievances against the RSPCA, I suspect that the majority are baseless but I have yet to find anything that explains the societies complaints procedures.

    So where is the lack of accountability and transparency for the Police? I suspect that some contributors to this site think that the Police should place all details of their investigations into the public domain. It’s never going to happen, but that in my mind does not mean that the Police are not accountable nor transparent. It is also my perception that some think that an undetected crime is a failure for which somebody must be held accountable. it is true that detection rates for raptor persecution is awfully low but this does not imply failure, it is simply more likely that there is insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution.

    Finally don’t anticipate if I were you much change at NWCU when Mr Sims takes up his post. The relationship between the Police, charities, NGO’s and the public is guided by legislation and policy. I suspect it is very unlikely that Mr Sims will be able to or even seek to change the present position.

    • September 3, 2014 at 1:16 am

      ” complaint is investigated by the force and can result in anything from words of advice to dismissal ” Well we all have confidence in those procedures, don’t we? Andrew Mitchell and Plebgate! Without the intense media attention and wherewithal of those involved just what action would have taken place.

      Hillsborough disaster and much more including recent events in Rotherham give us great trust in police abilities and trustworthiness.

      My own experience includes two occasions when the police have lied to get prosecutions. Once where a vehicle was examined due to no mot (it had failed the previous weekend and I was waiting for a part) and the inspectors said it was roadworthy so the prosecution would be for lack of mot. I then got a summons for driving a dangerous vehicle! Another occasion an officer lied in court saying he had seen me go through a red light. He had not, he was making an assumption on the lights sequence which was tight but you could get through on amber which I did.

      So if I am cynical over your trustworthiness you have your colleagues to blame.

      I can’t believe that the SSPCA can be any worse than the Police.

  8. 9 Tricky Dickie
    September 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    The SSPCA have been reporting offences for over a 140 years, they already have statutory powers and no restriction on what offences they can report. They have routinely reported offences that include wildlife and appear to do so without the obvious difficulties that the police have. All this without a single negative incident.

    Nevin you cant have it both ways;

    ‘Wildlife crime is a difficult crime to deal with, police need more resourcing’
    ‘No we don’t want any assistance’

    Your views are not representative of 99 per cent of police officers who are very keen to work with SSPCA

    Another example of the hypocrisy of ‘Partnership’ of PAW

    NWCU has consistently failed to deliver in so many areas and someone should question if their funding could be spent better elsewhere.

  9. 10 Marco McGinty
    September 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    If I was involved in crime prevention, I would be wanting every bit of outside help that was possible, to prevent such crimes and assist in any investigation. This is one of the main reasons why various police forces ask for help, via press releases, through televised media such as news reports or dedicated programmes like Crimewatch.

    Why should wildlife crime be any different? What do they have to hide (or protect)?

  10. 11 Jimmy
    September 3, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Sounds like sour grapes from a police force that has failed miserably to get on top of this problem

  11. 12 Chris
    September 3, 2014 at 12:53 am

    I have to say I do agree with secret shooter. The police complaints system may not always operate to a complainants satisfaction, but it is there.

    And I do have personal experience of a serious complaint against an RSPCA Inspector involving injury to a friend from the Inspector’s firearm, from years back when a hand gun could be used as a legal method for destroying a suffering animal. The RSPCA moved the inspector sideways, denied any responsibility and used their considerable wealth to run legal rings around him. The complaint was sunk without a trace.

    I have no problem in principle with the SSPCA having these extra powers, but would also want to see cast iron guarantees that a working system was in place so any complaint can be made and be adequately dealt with.

  12. 13 Circus maxima
    September 3, 2014 at 8:06 am

    Why have the NWCU never cracked the trafficking of the banned poisons?

  13. 14 Trish
    September 3, 2014 at 9:52 am

    The usual unwanted barriers are being put up, to an obvious solution needed to protect our wildlife!! I despair. On a happier note, if you are not aware, I saw an article in yesterdays paper. After two weeks of voting in the Vote National Bird poll. Two predators pushed to the brink of extinction-the hen harrier and the red kite are both in the top ten. With more than 20,000 votes cast at votenationalbird.com, the robin has its beak in ftont, followed by the barn owl and the kingfisher. The poll closes in October, with the top six going through to a second vote next year. Lets get voting for our much maligned RAPTORS.. Trish.

    Sent from Windows Mail

  14. 15 peter hoffmann
    September 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    The success rates in terms of investigation and conviction leaves one no other conclusion that the present system is not effective and the police are not capable …. or not able to do their job…. that is also suggested by the recent dismissal of the Leadhill Peregrin incident as not criminal… some officers clearly are less than conversant with the law they are tasked with upholding. So the Inclusion of the SSPCB must be a welcome addition to their arsenal… particularly in these times of budget cuts… I wonder why they feel so hesitant at embracing something that may take some burden and controversy off their shoulders… they should welcome the proposals, surely???? :-p

    • 16 peter hoffmann
      September 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      unless…. ehr… Nooooo… there couldn’t be a common interest by some in the police and those that perpetrate… ?

      • 17 nirofo
        September 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm

        You can’t possibly mean what I think you mean can you ? But having thought about it for an extremely short time, (nano second), I think you’re right !!!

  15. 18 Walt Delete
    September 3, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Secret shooter

    are you honestly trying to claim that the police are accountable for the huge amount of reported wildlife crime incidents that receive no police investigation .
    This blog lists countless examples.

    are you honestly trying to claim that the police are transparent when they continually hide behind the ‘ we are unable to comment on an active investigation’ cop out

    are you honestly claiming that police are transparent when they continue fail to make public individual incidents of reported wildlife crime

    your veil of secrecy has slipped………why not enjoy your retirement quietly!

  16. 19 Dougie
    September 4, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Report on police on BBC website today

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29053978'Material concern’

    Extract –

    HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said criminal damage and car crime were “on the verge of being decriminalised” because forces had “almost given up”.

    In some cases victims were asked to check for CCTV or fingerprints.

    The Association of Chief Police Officers said austerity meant forces had to set priorities.
    ‘Material concern’

    The review also found that police community support officers were being used as “detectives” in some forces.

    The inspector who led the review, Roger Baker, said: “It’s more a mindset, that we no longer deal with these things. And effectively what’s happened is a number of crimes are on the verge of being decriminalised.”

    He added: “So it’s not the fault of the individual staff; it’s a mindset thing that’s crept in to policing to say ‘we’ve almost given up’.”

    I think there is a strong element of that attitude in wildlife crime.

    • 20 bend and drive
      September 4, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Cast your mind back to a recent incident when a member of nwcu adviced a member of the public who had found a dead peregrine near to leadhills estate that there was insufficient evidence to suggest a crime ty has occurred. The bird was removed by rspb and later found to have been poisoned
      How accountable or transparent were nwcu on that occasion

  17. 21 secret shooter
    September 4, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    I must confess that I have become rather weary about the Plebgate story (because of the apparently appalling circumstances) but I do recall I think that at least one Police officer has been sacked, am I right in thinking that others are awaiting trial? There has undoubtedly been some really outrageous examples of bad (and criminal) behaviour by Police officers and forces over the years but does not the fact that we now know about them serve to evidence accountability and transparency? (Accepting the point that on occasion it has taken prolonged effort by some very determined people)

    Not making public the detail of enquires undertaken into wildlife crime does not (in my opinion) mean that the investigating agencies are not being accountable. I would be more interested in hearing about the outcome of formal complaints made in relation to the conduct of officers charged with investigating wildlife crime or similar complaints made in relation to the approach of the service with regard to wildlife crime. Has anybody personally gone down that path?

    Just like to clarify that I am not suggesting that the Police should not be seeking assistance in tackling wildlife crime. I think that each and everyone of us has a duty to provide evidence of criminal behaviour to the Police. The Police themselves should look to work with experts. My issue is not even about whether other bodies should be provided with Police powers, the concerns I raise are about the way the consultation has been framed. But just before everyone thinks I have softened my approach I will also say that I do have significant concerns as to how some organisations seek to act as investigators and prosecutors but that is a matter that I will come back to at a more appropriate time. (Always assuming that the authenticator allows me to continue to make blogs)

    Just a final note. There have been a number of comments placed on the site suggesting that I am Mr Hunter recently retired head of NWCU. I don’t know how he will react to those suggestions but I would like to make people aware that I am not Mr Hunter. You will have to decide whether to accept this as the truth of the matter.

  18. 22 Willy Wallace
    September 4, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Personally I cannot see why any retired senior police officer should wish to remain anonymous when making a comment on this blog,unless of course they don’t have the courage of their convictions. Well done to all those that have the courage not to use a pseudonym.

    Secret Shooter I for one don’t think you are Mr Hunter

  19. 23 Me
    September 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    If I worked for the SSPCA and read the comments regarding the ability of their “officers” and staff to be competent enough to make enquiries and submit reports on wildlife crime to the PF,I would be rather browned off.Just because a person has the courage and decency to work for a “charity” ( and do so because they are committed too and enjoy the work) does not mean they are less capable of carrying out the tasks given to them and I for one applaud them and increased powers would be great for all concerned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 4,146,077 hits


Our recent blog visitors