Local council gives increased powers to SSPCA – now what about the Scottish Government?

sspca logoA few days ago a Panorama programme was aired on BBC Scotland about the illegal puppy trade (see here). It showed some pretty horrendous footage that had been secretly filmed at a puppy farm in Northern Ireland and one in the Irish Republic, as well as some undercover surveillance of puppies being brought over on the ferry and sold on to unscrupulous dealers in Scotland. It was harrowing stuff.

So what’s this got to do with raptor persecution? Actually, quite a lot. In a subsequent BBC article (here), it emerged that ferry company Stena Line was taking action to crack down on this illegal trade and was working in partnership with the SSPCA in a multi-agency approach, code-named Operation Delphin.

Nothing unusual about that, but what’s really interesting is that to help facilitate this crack-down, Dumfries & Galloway Council has, this year, conferred additional investigatory powers to the SSPCA which authorises the SSPCA to stop and search suspects’ vehicles and also allows them to seize anything believed to be evidence, including puppies, documentation and mobile phones. These additional powers have been authorised by D&G Council under The Trade in Animals and Related Products (Scotland) Regulations 2012.

All credit to D&G Council for creatively using the full extent of their legislative powers to tackle this disgraceful industry.

What interests us most about this is that the illegal puppy trade is a multi-million pound industry, managed by some pretty hardened criminals, some of whom are involved in serious organised crime. D&G Council had no problem giving additional investigatory powers to the SSPCA to enable them to work, in partnership with other agencies including the police, HMRC and local councils, to address these crimes.

Now, compare the Council’s approach with that of Police Scotland and the organisations involved with game bird shooting in Scotland who all objected, vociferously, to the idea that the SSPCA could be given additional powers to help investigate wildlife crime. Among other things, they claimed that the SSPCA was ‘unaccountable’, that it didn’t have the training and competence to cope with additional powers, that additional powers would amount to ‘quasi-policing’, that ‘only the police should investigate crime’, and that additional powers would ‘destabilise trust’ between PAW partners (see here for more details of these ridiculous objections).

What’s even more fascinating is that the SSPCA isn’t even asking for stop and search powers to help tackle wildlife crime – it’s simply asking for powers that would enable officers to investigate wildlife crimes that don’t involve a live animal in distress. So for example, the additional powers would allow the SSPCA to investigate wildlife crime where the victim is already dead, or where a victim may not be present, e.g. an illegally-set pole trap (see here for further details). Under the current legislation the SSPCA is not permitted to investigate these incidents and must call the police, who may or may not attend depending on who’s available and how busy they might be with other police duties.

So the question is, how come D&G Council has faith in the SSPCA’s investigative abilities to deal with serious organised crime, so much so that additional powers have been granted, but Police Scotland and the game-shooting industry claims the SSPCA is so incapable and untrustworthy that moderate additional powers to tackle wildlife crime (including the illegal persecution of raptors on game-shooting estates) should not be conferred?

Quite revealing isn’t it? Could it be that the game-shooting industry is objecting to additional powers because if the SSPCA is granted those powers, then obviously the chances of the criminals being caught will increase? As for Police Scotland, it’s still quite baffling why they would object. It’s not as though the SSPCA would be taking over the investigation of all wildlife crime – they’d still be working in partnership with the police and the police could still investigate if they had officers available to attend. Could it be that Police Scotland is still objecting because if increased powers were conferred, the SSPCA’s success rate might prove rather embarrassing for Police Scotland?

Hopefully this long, drawn-out fiasco will soon be over, one way or another, now the new Cabinet Secretary for the Environment is in place (here) and increased pressure is being applied by Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell (see here).


32 Responses to “Local council gives increased powers to SSPCA – now what about the Scottish Government?”

  1. 1 Will O the Wisp
    May 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Police Scotland are beginning to look (and act) like the landowner/ gamekeeper’s private police force.

    Scotland urgently needs more SSPCA officers and ScotGov ought to look at a means of funding them as a priority especially as the shooting season looms…..

    • 2 crypticmirror
      May 19, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      Beginning? The cops and the PF have always been, well I don’t want to be X’d or square bracketed so I’ll avoid being blunt, but their relationship with the Lairds and Keepers has always been a bit too close for comfort. I wouldn’t say they are bought and paid for, but I wouldn’t be falling over myself to intervene on their behalf if someone else wanted to say that.

      • 3 Will O the Wisp
        May 19, 2016 at 1:33 pm

        I was trying to be diplomatic but aye, you are correct. How many judges or high ranking police officers shoot? How can they prove they have not been offered some shooting by estates in order to keep them sweet?

        • May 19, 2016 at 3:19 pm

          There was a case a while back where the judge or sheriff had to be replaced because the shooting lobby claimed that because he/she subscribed to the RSPB he had a conflict of interest.
          Great idea. All the police, PF, judiciary, decision makers in government or semi government (e.g.. NE & SNH) involved in raptor crime should have to cancel their RSPB subscriptions.
          It would be a small price to pay for the same rules to apply to the shooting lobby.
          All those same people would have to either give up their shooting rights, give up their land or resign.
          PAWS would have no members but it is a waste of time anyway.

          But as we all know, and as RPUK has pointed out, the same comparison can be made with water bailiffs and the SSPCA. There is one law (or rather no law) for grouse moors and one for the rest.
          I am not sure if it was RPUK but the same comparison can be made with other non grouse moor crimes: egg collecting, poaching, badger baiting, those involving falconry etc.
          I understand againstfeudalism’s username, very apt.

          Incidentally i wonder how Cunningham voted on Andy Wightman’s amendment to the Land Reform Act.

          • May 19, 2016 at 3:56 pm

            Not sure i have the right amendment but i think so.
            She voted No on both these:
            Amendment 103 moved by Patrick Harvie on motion S4M-15925 Aileen McLeod: Land Reform (Scotland) Bill
            Amendment 105 moved by Patrick Harvie on motion S4M-15925 Aileen McLeod: Land Reform (Scotland) Bill

          • 6 Dougie
            May 19, 2016 at 4:20 pm

            That would be the George Mutch case and Sheriff Annella Cowan.

            • May 19, 2016 at 5:08 pm

              You have got to laugh.
              Liking birds is a conflict of interest.
              Bit like having children would be a conflict of interest in a paedophile case.

              • 8 Adam
                May 19, 2016 at 8:14 pm

                It’s more like being a member of NSPCC (assuming you could be one) or Children 1st (in Scotland), while there is an NSPCC employer giving evidence as a witness, if you’d want to stick to your child sexual abuse analogy. Sheriff Cowen was a member of RSBP, and there was an RSPB officer giving evidence. She offered to recuse herself (in the spirit of ‘justice must also be seen to be done’), which was accepted by the parties.

                • May 19, 2016 at 8:49 pm

                  OK Adam although not sure of your point.
                  I accept your analogy it works just as well except as i understand it she didn’t step down voluntarily she was forced to.
                  Is the sheriff going to step down because they once gave money to the NSPCC.
                  Is a judge going to be replaced because he voted for the same party as the defendant or uses the same toothpaste.
                  Now if they were in the same lodge or same shooting fraternity? Yes, how can we check that.

          • 12 Chris
            May 20, 2016 at 12:54 am

            And what crimes would “those involving falconry” be? Are you going to try and suggest that raptors are stolen from the wild for falconry?

        • 13 crypticmirror
          May 19, 2016 at 3:19 pm

          Yup, it is the same with golf courses. Another hobby of the great and good that is allowed to break the law with impunity.

          • May 19, 2016 at 5:21 pm

            Yep, forestry and farming were mentioned similarly in the comments yesterday.
            On Mull there was a bit of fuss over someone who it was rumoured had waved his arms somewhere near a White-tailed Eagle nest near his water supply. It was all a lot of hot air i think but if it were true, that the pair had been disturbed, he would have ended up in court. It seemed to me ironic that the a large clear-felling forestry project could cut the trees right up to that same nest (leaving only a tiny patch of trees which blew down) and that was OK even though it resulted in the pair having to re-locate twice to a site 4km away. As far as i know there has never even been a complaint about it.

  2. 15 Mike Mills
    May 19, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Yet again a very well presented article at a very opportune time. Well done guys the logic and conclusions are clear to us all.

  3. 16 Damion Willcock
    May 19, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    excellent analysis RPUK

    • May 19, 2016 at 5:33 pm

      Yes. Brilliant.
      It would be boring to say that to every RPUK post so take it as a given but this was one of the exceptional ones.
      I don’t even need to read a paper any more, i get all i need here and on Mark Avery’s blog.
      I notice the recommend options was functioning for a while but it didn’t work that great.

  4. 18 Simon Tucker
    May 19, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    The police throughout the UK act for the landowners and wildlife criminals: hence their continual harassment of hunt sabs, whilst the hunt followers get away with assault after assault; terrier men get away with digging out and setting terriers on foxes; hunts get away with killing foxes, domestic animals and pets – even when it is filmed and the evidence handed to the police.

    I reported XXXXX Estate in June 2014 for flailing 1km of hedgerow on the 29th June. The police wildlife crime unit spoke to the Estate, didn’t visit, who said that there were no birds nests in that hedgerow. They took their word for it. Complete bullshit – I now survey their hedgerow every May to ensure that they cannot claim ignorance. Nobody wanted to know: the Marlborough Downs NIA people, including their birding conservation manager, said that all they could do was advise them not to do it. That was an untruth: they could have threatened to withdraw funding and reported them to the RPA. The local newspaper were prepared to publish something but only if I didn’t accuse them of breaking the law – because the Estate advertise with them and pay them money.

    • 19 crypticmirror
      May 19, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      I don’t see why the estate name was blanked there, the OP was merely reporting the factual statement that they were reported for investigation. That isn’t actionable, especially if Simon got an incident number when he made the report. Always remember to get an incident number when you report something, general advice there, every interaction a desk officer has with the general public generates one no matter what it is about.

  5. 20 Will O the Wisp
    May 19, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Some Police Scotland areas are running an online survey on their performance today. Once the survey is complete, it goes to a page where you can donate money to your favourite animal cruelty charity.
    Oh, the irony.

    Transparency of interests surely must, in the immediate future, be declared by the judiciary, police etc and be made public. This would ensure an unbiased or imbalanced hearing if any wildlife crimes made it to court.
    Estates who are found guilty of wildlife crimes ought to be forced to pay for the wages of new SSPCA officers for a period of eg minimum of five years.

  6. 21 against feudalism
    May 19, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    I think what we hope for, no demand, in this new Scotland, is honesty and integrity, from our politicians downwards to the lowest civil servant. An end to corruption and self interest.

    Having the majority of our country tied up in large private estates, seemingly unaccountable to law, and funded from the common purse ? what irony eh. Distorting land values, preventing house building and businesses, taking back farm tenancies for the subsidies, denuding the hills of trees, and slaughtering our wildlife – this has to end !

    I do hope that the new land reform minister Roseanna Cunningham MSP. has the iron to carry this forward. This is the 21st century, but the estates are, for the most part, still living as though it were the 18th. and so are the police and judiciary, the councils and politicians, pandering to them.

    Having meetings with the estates, and calling them ‘our partners’ is a sad joke, and surely people can see this?

    wee rant over, as I continue to refuse to touch my forelock.

  7. May 19, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Here is probably one perfect example of why SSPCA should and must have more powers, the sooner the better. The incident is now in the hands of the PF and so specific details can’t be given, but here is what happened:

    [Ed: Sorry but we can’t report the details of this if the case is being marked by the Fiscal]

    The whole incident has been captured on film by a witness. A perfect example of why more powers must be given to the SSPCA now. This is not an isolated incident and too many wildlife criminals are getting away with their persecution of Scottish Wildlife when there is a team of professional, qualified and fully equipped people waiting to help and assist.

    Go on Scottish Government, you know it makes sense. Scottish wildlife needs all the help it can get, so don’t overlook this opportunity of FREE assistance in SUPPORTING Police Scotland in their fight against wildlife persecution.

  8. 23 Tony Warburton MBE
    May 19, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Amen to all that ‘against feudalism’. In the meantime three cheers for D & G Council for providing us with good ammunition and having the balls to actually ‘act’ rather than prevaricating. A breath of fresh air at last – and as usual, thanks a million RPS, you do a great job.

    • 24 Marian
      May 19, 2016 at 5:37 pm

      I don’t live in Scotland but it’s great to read such excellent blogs – you are all so well informed and expert in the field – and, as others say, well done to RPS-UK for all the useful work you do.

      By the way, picking up on a mention of Wildlife Crime POs – the Leicestershire officer rides with a hunt – of course, it’s all legal, is it not.

  9. 25 Adam
    May 19, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    At border inspection posts the Trade in Animals and Related Products (Scotland) Regulations, SSI 2012/177 are enforced by the Scottish Ministers in relation to animals, and by the local authority in relation to products (reg 27(1)). It appears that authorised officers appointed by local authorities can enforce the Regulations in relation to animals only outside a border inspection post (reg 27(2)).

    It wasn’t entirely clear from the BBC article where these inspection took place, but if SSPCA investigators are using their powers under the Regulations to stop and search the vehicles at the border inspection post at Loch Ryan Port, Cairnryan, then it would seem that they are doing it unlawfully, unless they have been authorised by Scottish Ministers, who can also authorise a person to enforce the Regulations (reg 2(1)).

    In any event, it certainly looks like a sensible move on part of Dumfries & Galloway Council (but I suspect they had done it only to save themselves the expense of enforcing this legislation). It now seems less reasonable to argue against giving wildlife crime related powers to SSPCA inspectors (although I still think the proposal is not entirely unproblematic).

    Relevant news that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) inspected recently the non-police use of the Police National Computer (PNC), a national database of information available to all police forces in the UK. SSPCA has had direct access to PNC since 2012 ‘for the prevention and detection of crime, specifically serious animal welfare related crime including dog fighting, badger baiting and animal trade’, although it has adopted ‘a cautious approach to the use of PNC’.

    SSPCA, along with most of the non-police organisations, continued to have access to and make use of the PNC even when the Supply Agreement between the organisation and the (now defunct) National Policing Improvement Agency had expired. Home Office, however, issued a new agreement to SSPCA in March 2016.

    HMIC concluded that ‘the SSPCA needs direct access to the PNC’, that it ‘has been complying with the requirements of its Security Operating Procedures’, and in general, ‘making efficient and effective use of the PNC’. The only recommendation was that ‘the SSPCA should consider using more secure and reliable technology than fax, such as email’.

    One could argue that this report is good evidence that SSPCA can make good use of these resources which are not normally available to other charities, and it does so in a responsible and accountable way.

    The SSPCA inspection report can be downloaded from HMIC’s website: http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic/publications/use-of-the-police-national-computer-by-the-sspca/

    Non-police use of the Police National Computer reports:

  10. 26 jill daniel
    May 20, 2016 at 9:11 am


    I am sure that you are correct in pointing out that one of reasons D and G council have authorised’ the SSPCA is because of shortage of resources.

    Cant see what is wrong with this arrangement. Sounds like partnership working to me.

    By SSPCA having direct access to the Police National Computer this goes to show that they are dealing with the types of serious crime that merits them having access to very sensitive data and the regulators of PNC accept this.

    Why cant the SSPCA be given increased powers to assist in the fight against wildlife crime. Wildlife crime almost always is prosecuted on summary proceedings so on the scale of things is less serious crime than they (SSPCA) are already dealing with.

    Lets not forgot SSPCA are already investigating wildlife crime albeit with one hand tied behind their backs and still manage to detect cases that result in conviction.

    I do not see SSPCA as a silver bullet but they certainly would help the situation.

    Hopefully politics can be put to one side.

  11. May 20, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    To Adam
    I still don’t get your point. I take splitting hairs as being adversarial, a red herring or at best irrelevant.
    Correcting analogies. Really?

    The sheriff was put under pressure or forced. Take it up with the Press and Journal.
    Anything that happens in a courtroom has a degree of pressure. It’s not a tea party.
    I’m glad the sheriff stood down because the defence would have asked for a re-trial for the slightest excuse, oh wait they already did.

    • May 21, 2016 at 10:26 am

      My minor error, they didn’t. I was getting confused with 2 problem vicarious liability cases.
      1. Kildrummy Estate: apparently impossible to find the owners (relating to the George Mutch conviction).
      2. Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate): waiting for the William Dick appeal.

    • 29 Adam
      May 21, 2016 at 11:24 am

      The analogy seemed to imply a similarity between two things where, in my opinion, no such similarity exists. It appeared that this was based on a lack of understanding as to how judicial recusal works, which I have attempted to clarify (but reading your last comment I have clearly failed haha). Anyway, anyone who is really interested can read the Principles of Judicial Ethics which governs, amongst other things, recusals. http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/Upload/Documents/StatementofPriciplesofJudicialEthicsfortheScottishJudiciary.pdf

      I too am concerned about wildlife crime, but often it seems that people (and I am not referring to you) just spout conspiracy theories or assumptions based on ignorance or just emotions. I don’t know much about ornithology, but I do know a bit about law so if I encounter inaccuracies as to the relevant legal issue I believe that clarifying or correcting them would strengthen the overall argument that wildlife crime, and the persecution of birds of prey in particular, is a significant problem in Scotland, and more needs to be done to tackle it.

      I agree that it was a good idea for Sheriff Cowan to recuse herself (but I’m not aware that there was an appeal against conviction and/or sentence).

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