Ross-shire Massacre discussed at RACCE meeting

RK5Back 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.

12 Responses to “Ross-shire Massacre discussed at RACCE meeting”

  1. February 16, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Well…no mention of land and/or outbuilding searches..were there any, would be my first question [no details needed of course]?…There was a time – the late 80s early 90s when the Dept of Ag investigators along with RSPB and local police would search all farm and estate [including gamekeepers] outbuildings within a reasonable “poisoning radius” within days of any “banned substance” or even controlled substance being found in dead wild birds or animals. Multiple offences were often uncovered. People talked to agriculture officers who knew the countryside well. Successful court cases followed…since the era of “protocols” and strange “partnerships”, I dont see many positive outcomes..I wonder why?….Oh yes, and resources were severely stretched then too….

  2. 2 nirofo
    February 16, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    One word springs to mind “Collusion”.

  3. 3 James Scobie
    February 16, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    And police scotland are concerned about SSPCA accountability!

    This whole issue stinks , no transparency and using the old chestnut ‘ ongoing enquiry’ when have we heard that one before.

    Catching the person responsible was ruined the weekend this incident happened by a botched initial investigation where the same mistakes that are so commonly made by police occurred.

    Dead birds retrieved by police in yellow jackets in broad daylight
    Reluctance to partnership work
    Conflict of interest
    Etc etc etc

    • 4 nirofo
      February 18, 2016 at 2:26 am

      I don’t think the police botched the initial investigation at all, it’s more than likely this is their normal procedure when investigating Raptor Persecution, as are the majority of the raptor persecution crimes that go “unsolved” and that’s nearly all of them !!!

      • 5 heclasu
        February 22, 2016 at 2:07 am

        As a police officer in a previous incarnation, I think I can go some way to sum up the problem. To the average policeman, wildlife crime just isn’t important. I know that my colleagues of ‘way-back-when’ would have looked at me aghast had I made a big deal over an illegally destroyed buzzard or the like and had determined to get to the bottom of the matter. To them, it was just ‘a bird’ whereas there was a lot more going on which involved humans; drugs, assaults, car theft and the like. In many ways, they are right to put ‘people’ above animals, especially when resources are now so stretched. However, it is increasingly apparent that in many rural areas, the police are on the side of the gamekeepers, some of whom go out of their way to ‘cultivate’ a good relationship with a local officer. Many police officers in my past experience also had a, to me, altogether unhealthy interest in guns! What side of the fence would you expect them to sit on?

        p.s. I should add that I was a police officer in a city – not a rural cop!!

        • 6 sue padupar
          February 22, 2016 at 5:46 pm

          Well said, I to am an ex police officer and had very similar experiences. I also noticed that some officers volunteered to be a wildlife crime officer to enable them to get off night shifts, get free walking boots and kit or had shooting interests.
          That said there was the odd one that was exceptionally good and put heart and soul into it.
          Almost all didn’t last becoming disillusioned and frustrated.
          Unfortunately I believe that the police have become part of the problem.
          The NWCU is a prime example.
          In theory a good idea, in practice a disaster and waste of money

          • February 22, 2016 at 7:51 pm

            Glad to see the last two posts putting some reality into the situation…along with other RSPB staff, a few SNH staff, a couple of scottish office wallahs and a couple of experienced policemen…I spent years training WLO/WCOs in Scotland. We even had several on secondment with RSPB Investigations. That was before the shooting lobby struck back in the late 1990s and undid all that good work. I recognise SuePadupar [good name there] description of the ones with shooting interests and liking getting outdoor kit [and some publicity] but I also recognise the “heart and soul” types too..some became my friends. They were and are still being let down by their superiors and others in establishment positions….There were always other officers who laughed at the good WCOs hard work…but dont ever fall for the “putting people above animals line” – wildlife crime is about people..its perpetrated by very unpleasant people and it is certainly not a “victimless crime”. …it can destroy a communities quality of life at one stroke….I make no apology in directing readers to my book which details how we were starting to get things right before the wildlife criminals used their power and influence to bring us to the present rather pathetic state of play. Yes, the police are the problem..the SSPCA is now the answer.


            • 8 heclasu
              February 23, 2016 at 2:22 am

              Not wishing to criticise you at all Dave because I have the greatest respect for you! – but I think you have misinterpreted my comment about putting people above wildlife. Or perhaps it was the way I wrote it left it open to be misinterpreted! What I meant was this; I was a city cop. You know who I am! We were extremely busy 24/7/365. This was nearly thirty years ago. In this present age of cutbacks (I believe the Met recently ‘culled’ most, if not all, officers over 50 – their most experienced officers) there are now fewer, less-experienced, officers to deal with an ever-increasing workload. I also believe (though I might be wrong) that the calibre of the youngsters joining the police force nowadays is markedly different from when I was a ‘probationer’ back in the ’70’s – and not for the better!. I am sure that had you carried out a poll at my station, even back then, giving each officer the choice of investigating a wildlife crime, or spending the day on the crime car, 90% at least would have chosen the latter. Why? More interesting! The possibility of a car chase perhaps! Nowadays it would be 100%. I fully agree with the point you make about wildlife crime being about people. I would have agreed with you back then, but I would have been the exception. It is not me you have to convince. It is the officer on the beat. My late father, once a senior officer in the Met, once said to me the recruitment of a police officer reflects the society it recruits from. How true! (and what hope do we have for the future!)

              I stress again that I was from a city force and I had no real experience of the way rural policing worked until I came to live where I am now. I got to know two sergeants both of whom I involved in wildlife crime and who I still have the greatest respect for and one PC who I would not piss on if he was on fire because he was corrupt and very much ‘in the pay’ of the landowner. Unfortunately, it was him who I had most dealings with.

              Yes, I agree, the way forward is the SSPCA. However, I believe that it is also very much the responsibility of the RSPB to get off the fence and start fighting for what they were created for. I don’t believe the SSPCA can carry the fight to these bastards alone. I also believe that it is the responsibility of every person with any interest in our bird life to get out there and help them as much as we can by keeping a VERY close eye on our local gamekeepers and reporting anything suspicious promptly.

              Forget SNH – they are a bunch of toothless w******* in my experience, more interested in putting their careers before making any decision that might be remotely controversial.

              To my mind, the people with ‘the clout’ to do something about the disgusting crimes that are being committed, are still not pulling their weight. Until they do it will be an uphill struggle. Perhaps it is time for ‘the people’ to go out there and involve them – whether they like it or not – and to adversely publicise their failings if they do not come up to speed.

            • 9 nirofo
              February 23, 2016 at 2:35 am

              Well said dave, but it’s fairly obvious the police have a vested interest in making sure the SSPCA don’t get too involved, it may show them up for what they are.

  4. 12 Sue Padupa
    February 23, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    The problems associated with investigating wildlife crime are clear to everyone (both sides). The side of the ‘angels’ wishing a reduction in crime and increased enforcement and the ‘dark’ side wishing for the status quo and no one other than the police (who cannot or will not) to be the sole organisation investigation wildlife crime.

    Question is …………is the Scottish Governement willing enitiate change.

    Finally I see our friend Sheriff Drummond is back in the newspapers regarding a controversial sentence he has given out and a certain lawyer David McKie defending his decision.


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