Many of you will know that we’ve been following the glacial progress of the Scottish Government’s decision on whether the SSPCA should be given increased investigatory powers to help tackle wildlife crime, and particularly, illegal raptor persecution. Here’s an overview of how this ‘key priority’ has been (mis)handled so far.
Following the consultation, which ended over two years ago, we analysed some of the reasons that landowners and Police Scotland had put forward about why they thought the SSPCA should not receive increased powers. These included a lack of accountability, lack of training and competence, and a claim that increased powers would amount to ‘quasi-policing’. It turned out that the landowners and the police were being pretty hypocritical, given the substantial powers enjoyed by water bailiffs (employed by landowners to work in the landowners’ interests). These powers include the power of arrest, and yet water bailiffs have no public accountability and undergo minimal training (it’s important you read this to understand what we mean).
This hypocrisy was then picked up on by MSPs, who, during a Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee hearing in November 2014, questioned the police about the role and powers of the water bailiff. During that session, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham made the following statement:
“The powers that water bailiffs have and which were used in the past are no longer used routinely. We do not have experience of water bailiffs who think that they are in a position to apprehend people. They understand that both public perceptions and legal perspectives on people being brought into custody and detained have changed dramatically, and rightly so. The scrutiny that needs to be brought to bear when someone is going to be apprehended and not allowed to go about their business is far more rigorous than it was in the past. Our experience is that water bailiffs no longer use those powers; indeed, I can give no example from recent times of such use of powers coming to my attention“. (Full transcript available here).
Just read ACC Graham’s statement again, and remember this is a senior police officer giving evidence to a Parliamentary Committee.
And then head over to BBC iPlayer and watch episode 4 of The River, which was broadcast last night (available on iPlayer for 29 days). You’ll see a team of water bailiffs working on the River Tweed, looking for salmon poachers. And you’ll never guess what happens when they find some.