On 1 June 2016 we blogged about the Mossdale Estate gamekeeper who had been caught on film setting illegal pole traps on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here).
Also on 1 June 2016, we blogged about North Yorkshire Police’s decision to issue this criminal with a caution rather than refer him to the Crown Prosecution Service to begin a formal prosecution. We argued that, according to the official Police ‘cautions’ guidelines, the decision to caution in this case was apparently flawed. The offences, to which the gamekeeper had already admitted guilt, backed up by excellent video evidence obtained by the RSPB’s Investigations Team, were of such gravity and included all five aggravating factors (and no mitigating factors) as listed in the Police guidelines, that this was a clear case for proceeding to charges and a prosecution. Following a bombardment of complaints from blog readers (thank you all), Amanda Oliver, Acting Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police, promised a review of the decision not to charge this criminal gamekeeper (see here).
Today, Amanda Oliver has published the findings of that review:
You wrote to us recently to complain about our decision to caution a man, after he admitted an offence contrary to section 5(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
North Yorkshire Police has now completed a review of this investigation. This involved looking again at the evidence and the decision, using the Ministry of Justice Guidelines on Adult Cautions, the Adult Gravity Factor Matrix, and the latest Director of Public Prosecutions Guidance on Charging. Specialist advice was also sought from the Crown Prosecution Service.
Our review found that we had not used the correct cautioning guidelines when dealing with this case. Police officers have a level of discretion in deciding how to deal with a case, based on the specific circumstances of the incident. However, the review concluded that if the correct guidelines had been used, it is likely that the man would have been charged, rather than cautioned.
It is important to remember that a police caution is not a “let off”. A person who has been cautioned has a criminal record, and there can be very serious consequences as a result. Depending on the circumstances, they may lose their job and income, and there may also be implications for the person’s future employment. A decision was also made to revoke this man’s firearms licence as a result of his involvement in this offence.
As a result of the review, we asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether further action should be taken on this case, and provided them with other details of our activity related to the man involved. After consideration, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that, taking all matters into account, including that a decision had already been made, no further action should be taken.
I would like to reassure you that the mistake we made on the use of guidelines was isolated to this particular case. Nonetheless, we have taken the matter very seriously, and we have ensured we have done everything we can to avoid mistakes happening in the future. We have amended our policy on how wildlife crimes are dealt with by investigators and decision-makers, and advice from specially-trained officers is now sought in every case. We are also using our position as the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on rural and wildlife crime, to share what we have learned with other police services across the UK.
Thank you for raising this matter with us. On behalf of North Yorkshire Police I would like to apologise for the distress that this matter has caused you, and assure you that we will do our very best to protect our local wildlife, and deliver the police national wildlife action plan here in North Yorkshire and more widely.
Acting Assistant Chief Constable
We very much appreciate Amanda Oliver’s decision to conduct this review and publicise the findings. This level of accountability, honesty and transparency is, in our experience, extremely rare but it is vital if the public is to have any confidence in the way the Police handle wildlife crimes. We applaud North Yorkshire Police for not trying to cover up their mistakes.
On to the actual review itself, Amanda says the usage of incorrect charging guidelines was isolated to this particular case. We’re not so sure about that. In 2015, we blogged about the discovery of five illegally set pole traps at a gamebird-breeding facility in North Yorkshire. The police charged the owner of that facility and he was found guilty of permitting the use of one pole trap, although this conviction was later quashed. But the Police failed to charge two employees with setting those five illegal traps and instead they were both given a caution (see here). Did North Yorkshire Police use the incorrect guidelines when they decided to caution those two employees? We’ll never know.
Amanda suggests that in the case of the Mossdale Estate gamekeeper, a police caution is “not a let off”. Sorry, but that’s nonsense, and we share Mark Avery’s views (here) on why it absolutely is a let off. It’s particularly frustrating in this case because, as you all know, raptor persecution on grouse moors is prolific and yet there are relatively few convictions. Why? Because it takes an extraordinary set of circumstances to have first-rate evidence AND an admission of guilt from the gamekeeper. This particular case was handed to the Police on a plate, thanks to the superb efforts of the RSPB’s Investigations Team. It should have been an easy ‘win’ that ended in a successful prosecution. That opportunity was missed in this case, and that’s unfortunate. However, we do applaud the Police’s decision to revoke this gamekeeper’s firearms certificate and we hope other Police forces take note of that decision.
It’s also unfortunate that the CPS has taken the decision not to take any further action against this criminal gamekeeper but without knowing the full details of the case it’s difficult to assess the validity of that decision.
We’re pleased and encouraged to hear that North Yorkshire Police has now amended its policy on how it tackles wildlife crimes. Given this region’s well-deserved reputation for being a raptor persecution hell hole, it probably won’t be long before we get to see just how well this new policy is working. The next case won’t be far away.