SSPCA powers: revisiting the role and powers of the water bailiffs

sspca logoMany 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).

Malcolm Graham 2This 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.

14 Responses to “SSPCA powers: revisiting the role and powers of the water bailiffs”

  1. 1 Robert Moss
    November 29, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    I’ve been apprehended by water bailiffs. On a fine moonlit night I was taking my accustomed stroll along the nearby river bank when very small bailiff leapt from the dark bushes and grabbed me by the upper jacket sleeves with a “gotcha”. I held still, reasoning with him, and was eventually released. Then a very large and muscular second bailiff lumbered from the same bushes, grabbed me in the same way and repeated the same “gotcha” as he towered over me. The small bailiff persuaded the large bailiff to let me go, again. Their obvious intention was that I should resist the small lad and then get overpowered by the big one.

    Perhaps this ploy is part of bailiffs’ training? I didn’t bring it to police attention.

    • November 29, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      Couldn’t find the audio but here the words to The Poacher’s Song by Robin Williamson who did a bit of poaching himself.

      Wake up Jamie strike a light
      For while you were lying dreaming
      I’ve been up the waterside
      All with the gaff and the lantern
      But the bailiff he’s a restless man
      And terrible light in sleeping
      His dogs did bark and his guns did bang
      And damn but he had me running

      And if the bailie comes today
      Inquiring for a salmon
      That maybe might have swum this way
      Snagged onto someone’s arm
      Just grit your teeth and squint your eyes
      He’ll likely think you’re smiling
      And take your hat into your hand
      And bid the man good morning
      Oh, aye, oh, aye, bid the man good morning

      Invite him in for scones and tea
      And laugh at all his joking
      No need at all to let him see
      What’s up the chimney smoking
      And if he should inquire for me
      For me or Johnny Brady
      We’ve been away working several days
      And we’ll not be back till Friday
      Oh, aye, oh, aye, bid the man good morning
      Oh, aye, oh, aye, bid the man good morning

  2. 3 crypticmirror
    November 29, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    So water bailiffs no longer grab people who are walking innocently alongside the river, give them a savage kicking, rifle through their belongings, then shove them into the river and scatter their belongings into it in the safe and full knowledge that even if this assault is reported the cops will not even take a statement and just say the bailiffs story of the victim spontaneously falling in and getting a bit bruised climbing out is the more credible? Well that would be a marked change then, and one my knees wish had happened years ago. Nah, sorry, don’t believe it. Water bailiffs are nothing but legal bullies who are fine covering up all crime except the poaching the lordship’s salmon, and frankly they are the biggest f—ing poachers too.

  3. 4 Marco McGinty
    November 29, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I was going to alert you to the programme (I’ve just watched it on catch up), but there’s no need to do so now.

    It will come as no surprise to many blog readers, that once again we have Police Scotland representatives lying to the public (and government committees), all in a disgusting attempt to protect the shooting industry and all of its criminal behaviours. Is it any wonder why conservationists have no faith in Police Scotland.

    However, why did Police Scotland not object to the increased powers given to the SSPCA for Operation Delphin, for which the SSPCA has just been given an extension? They have been granted powers of Stop and Search, as well as Seizure, so why are they so opposed to the SSPCA having the same powers in relation to their investigations into the shooting industry?

    [Ed: Thanks, Marco. Please be careful about accusing ACC Graham of lying. He said the police didn’t have ‘experience’ of water bailiffs using their powers, nor had any instances been brought to his attention.

    It would be fair to say, then, that ACC Graham hasn’t got a clue what’s happening on the ground. And it’s not the first time his evidence to an RACCE committee has been questioned either]

  4. 5 keen birder
    November 29, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    The water bailiffs are employed not by the landowners but by either the Environment Agency in England, or in Scotland, SEPA, Scottish Environment protection Agency, they are in fact very well trained, in Pace, powers of arrest, arrest procedure etc etc, . The gillies are employed by the riparian owners, sometimes thought of as water bailiffs.

    • November 30, 2016 at 12:27 am

      Water bailiffs in Scotland are employed by District Salmon Fishery Boards (41 of those) or sometimes by Scottish Ministers if there isn’t a DSFB in a particular area. Suggest you check out the membership of these DSFBs – predominantly landowners and/or those who own propriety fishing rights.

      ‘Training’ for water bailiffs includes reading the Water Bailiffs Manual and sitting a written test. That appears to be it.

      • 7 Adam
        December 1, 2016 at 9:51 pm

        According to the ASFB’s website:
        “IFM BAILIFF TRAINING MODULE (Scotland only) – IFM Scottish Branch work with ASFB in delivering the Bailiff Training Module. This is a stand-alone module which is mandatory for individuals who wish to be appointed as a water bailiff in Scotland. Bailiff appointing authorities (DSFBs and Scottish Ministers) require successful completion of this module before appointments can be made.”

        This is not a legal requirement, as noted in a previous post here, but the policy of the ASFB:

        “The Association believes that the position whereby bailiffs can operate in Scotland without having undergone any formal training is untenable, from several perspectives:
        • Water Bailiffs have powers of search, arrest, entry and seizure. It is therefore of utmost importance that Water Bailiffs are knowledgeable in terms of the extent of their powers and the appropriate circumstances under which they can exercised. All Water Bailiffs should have sufficient skills and knowledge to allow them to carry out these duties to the best of their ability – the responsibility is on the employer or appointing authority to ensure this happens.
        • The credibility of witness statements or evidence provided in court may be undermined if a Water Bailiff presenting evidence or witness testimony has not successfully completed the relevant training.
        • Boards should ensure that they are not exposed in terms of liability arising from the actions of an individual during the course of their duties.
        For the reasons outlined above, the Association’s formal position is that no warrant card should be granted to an individual who has not successfully completed the IFM examination.”

        Click to access ASFB-Policy-on-appointment-of-water-bailiffs1.pdf

        There seems to be a genuine effort to ensure the water bailiffs are trained to a minimum standard, but it is perplexing that there are no statutory requirements to undergo any specific training.
        It is worth noting that there are specific statutory provisions in place to strengthen the accountability and transparency of DSFBs:
        – final report and audited accounts must be published
        – must hold (at least) one public meeting in each year
        – must publish the minutes of their meetings
        – must maintain, and keep under review, proper arrangements for dealing with complaints
        – must maintain, and keep under review, proper arrangements for the registration and declaration of relevant financial interests of members of the board.
        See in particular sections 46A to 46G of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 (as amended by the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2013).

        (It would be interesting to see what would be the outcome if one was to submit an information request to a DSFB. Could DSFBs be public authorities for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004?)

    • 8 crypticmirror
      November 30, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      And if you believe that then I have a number of bridges over the Clyde for sale you might be interested in, all at very reasonable prices.

  5. 9 Janice
    November 30, 2016 at 12:25 am

    This explains things, look at police Scotland’s record at dealing with wildlife crime .

    Given how poorly they are performing why would not they want help from the sspca?

    The senior police officer has made a fool of himself and has been well and truly been caught out.

    Scottish government should do the correct thing and grant increased powers to the sspca.

    Unless of course they don’t want to upset their land owning chums.

    Roseanne Cunningham is missing in action with this.

    Let’s not forget granting these powers is FREE to an organisation that has consistently displayed ability and accountability.

  6. 10 Pete Hoffmann
    November 30, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Considering this approach…perhaps salmon poaching should be encouraged….
    If it is ok for the estate game keepers to conduct themselves in a criminal way, then perhaps……

    • 11 crypticmirror
      November 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      I’ve been saying that for years.
      Breac à linne, slat à coille is fiadh à fìreach – mèirle às nach do ghabh gàidheal riamh nàire.

  7. 12 Doug Malpus
    November 30, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I once was verbally attacked and threatened with confiscation of all my canoeing equipment by a particularly notorious and nasty ghillie on the Public Navigation of the River Wye. All because I had the audacity to stop on his stretch due to suffering a serious hypo (caused by diabetes).

    He said he was a Water Bailiff, so I asked him to show me his warrant, this he did but it was a colourful sheet from a brochure that he hoped at 50m distance would convince me. I’m long sighted!

    When I went over to speak to the idiot, I asked him again for the warrant to be shown. This time he produced a tatty postcard that had type written on it, by a clearly worse for wear old mechanical type writer. When this failed to convince me he became threatening. He would not let me read it and quickly put it in his pocket.

    All was reported to the police with no action and even when I reported the matter to the Chief Constable no action was taken against this obnoxious character. It seems that impersonating a warrant carrying official is not a crime!!

    So, the police do not seem to wish to control these quasi official people or to get involved in estate matters.

    I wonder why????

    The only conclusion I can make is that the police do not want to upset the filthy rich and continue to turn a blind eye to crimes committed. This is so obvious to many but no law officials are prepared to take action.

    Maybe it is time for another petition to eradicate driven game shooting of not just grouse but pheasant and partridge too. It is all so primitive and should be confined to history.


  8. 13 Ian Ford
    November 30, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    It would seem very appropriate for all MSPs as well as relevant Ministers, including Ms Sturgeon, to be advised of this link between the police statement and the TV programme. It is new “news”. Anyone tech savvy enough to send to all these folk at the same time?

  9. 14 Adam
    December 1, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    It is well worth watching the proceedings of the Committee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GlyXg5if0Y

    I though ACC Graham’s performance was impressive, but maybe just because most MSPs appeared to be incapable of forming a coherent sentence.

    This does not necessarily mean that I’ve found his evidence compelling, but it was embarrassing to watch some of the MSPs. Quite a few had apparently no idea what the name of Scotland’s public prosecution service is. I would go as far as to say that ACC Graham sounded more like a politician than some of the MSPs – whether or not that is a good thing that’s another question.

    On the question of powers: surely the point that water bailiffs do not abuse their powers (which are far more substantial than those of SSPCA inspectors) only goes to prove that even where there are no oversight mechanisms private individuals can be entrusted with “police like” powers to investigate crime.

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