Back to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change & Environment (RACCE) committee meeting in January….
The topic of the Ross-shire Massacre was raised again. For new readers, the Ross-shire Massacre refers to the discovery of 22 dead raptors in a small area of Conon Bridge in the Highlands in March 2014. Sixteen red kites and six buzzards were found dead: 12 red kites and 4 buzzards have since been confirmed to have been poisoned by a ‘banned substance’. There have been no arrests to date. Our last update was on the 18 month anniversary (here) and we’ll be writing more when the two-year anniversary rolls around in March.
In the meantime, here’s the discussion from the RACCE committee meeting in January. In a nutshell, 22 months on from one of the biggest mass raptor poisonings uncovered in Scotland, the police have no progress to report:
Dave Thompson MSP (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP): This concerns the cases involving raptors up in Ross-shire. I have a couple of letters from Police Scotland in that regard, and I want to tease out one or two little points. One of the letters refers to the “consequence of a … use of a banned substance” and to the belief “that the raptors may not have been the specific target”. The second letter makes it very clear regarding one case that “there are limited opportunities to progress unless someone comes forward with information.”
You are probably aware that I have asked for some kind of interim report into the initial handling of that case. I was told in that letter that “Police Scotland does not produce ‘interim reports’ during a live investigation”. Given that the case in question could be live for the next 20 years, we are never going to get an opportunity to consider how things were initially handled in relation to the matter. There are concerns in the community and elsewhere that there was perhaps some unnecessary delay and so on. Given that there will be “limited opportunities to progress unless someone comes forward” with evidence, have you carried out, or do you plan to carry out, any internal investigation as to how the investigation itself was initially carried out? If so, have you learned any lessons from that? Will you able to make any of that public at any point?
Assistant Chief Constable Graham: We had a fairly lengthy discussion last year about the current state of the case at that stage. Some similar points were raised about the handling of the matter in the media—that was about press statements, if I remember correctly. There was a desire to review our approach.
At the heart of the letter to which you have referred is the point that having the police produce a report is not necessarily the best way to address the issues. However, I would be very happy to be involved in something in future with a range of organisations and interested parties, including yourself, whereby we are able to sit down and gather what the concerns are. We are aware of most of them. We could work through how we could do things differently in future, and we could achieve that even within the scope of a live investigation, which would not require the police to produce a report as such. As I say, producing a report might not be the most effective approach.
As I reported last year, we have done a number of things internally to review the investigation at senior detective level, which is unprecedented in a wildlife crime investigation. We had what we call a major investigation advisory group meeting, with a process around that. That has been subject to both peer and senior officer review, assessment and support. Notwithstanding all that, we have not arrived at a position where we have been able to solve the crimes, as it were, although that is not to say that we will not in the future.
Therefore, I would still be cautious in ensuring that we do not do anything to prejudice any potential future cases. A lot of information is still being received about the case. Much of that is statements or reports along the lines of, “Everybody knows who’s done it”, “We all know what’s gone on”, or “Everybody knows where the police should be looking.” I can assure the committee that we have followed up every statement in which we can identify the individuals involved. That includes people coming to us or people whom we have been made aware of who have made such statements publicly or privately.
The committee might have had feedback indicating that people are surprised when we have taken a statement from them after quite some time has passed. Unfortunately, in every single case, the statement has turned out to be without substance. We have spoken to everybody we possibly could and, although there is a general perception that everybody knows who did it, no one has been able to give us their names. Given the huge effort that has gone into—and continues to go into—the inquiry, we should have a caveat here because of public concern about perceived police inaction. The case is still sitting with the detective superintendent in Inverness, who is the lead investigator. I have been assured by him, as recently as last week, that there is still an active review and engagement on any potential lines of inquiry that come to light.
A short documentary was recently aired on the internet that interviewed a number of people. We picked up a number of lines from that, which were similar to previous statements in which people asserted that everybody knew who had done it. However, no one in the documentary knew who had done it, because we have spoken to them all.
Dave Thompson: You suggested a meeting between a range of bodies and parties, perhaps including myself. It would have to be before 23 March, because I am not standing again, although I am sure that my successor—whoever that is— would be happy to take part. Such a meeting would reassure people. Although the public accept that the police continue to look into the case and that they would dearly like to get any evidence that would allow them to conclude it, there are questions about how the police went about things at the beginning. Such a meeting would be really useful because frank discussions could take place and the issue could be talked through, without you having to divulge things that might prejudice the case. I would welcome such a meeting, if you are offering one.
Assistant Chief Constable Graham: I am, and I offer to do it before 23 March.