This is the second blog in our series from the 2013 Scottish Police Wildlife Crime Conference. Here is what Nevin Hunter, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit had to say:
“I’m going to talk about the National Wildlife Crime Unit, erm, and we’ll talk a bit about, I know many of you will know who we are, what we do, but there’ll be people who won’t be familiar necessarily about what we are, so we’ll talk about this.
We are a police unit, we cover Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we have funding for another year now until April next year and you can see there the various funding streams that we get, erm, it is quite convoluted our funding which does mean I spend quite a bit of my time as did my predecessors, er, securing funding but we’re, we’re there for another year, er, there to support you, we, we’re a unit to support law enforcement across the UK, er, and we’ve now got 12 members of staff. Five of those are, er, new members, erm, part-time but we’ve got four intelligence officers, part-time intelligence officers, already you’ve heard mention of Alan Stewart, so Alan’s come to, to bring us his expertise as well from his wildlife crime background, er, as well as, er, being trained as an intelligence officer, erm, we’ve also got amongst those an internet intelligence officer for the first time, funded by DEFRA for 18 months, that’s gonna allow us to support, er, investigations, er, relating to internet and internet crime and we’ve also been joined by an analyst, erm, from, erm, Miranda from Strathclyde on secondment to us, erm, and it’s great to report that in addition to having, er, Miranda, who’s taken over from, er, Sarah who left us over a year ago, er, today marks the return Sue Eddy, er, back to the team, er, having been away, er, on maternity leave and that really does bring us back up to full strength now. But we are a free resource, there to support the law enforcement agencies.
Ok, so our role is, some of you here have heard this before, we’re there to provide intelligence, analysis and operational support to deliver the UK wildlife crime priorities. We’re there to try and provide coordination at local, regional, national and international levels and from a communication point of view we’re there to provide a direct link to all UK law enforcement agencies and that includes people like the Border Force, UK Border Agency, Serious and Organised Crime Agency, er, and south of the border National Crime Agency as that develops.
In terms of actual responsibilities, what we’re there to do, we’re there to support the UK government coordinating the international response to wildlife crime. And just to give you an example, er, I’m not going to steal any thunder but you can hear a bit later on about the unit’s involvement with Operation Prey which is an Interpol-led operation, erm, involving work that we’ve supported in Nepal.
Ok, we’re there to support the strategic and operational response to wildlife crime across the UK, on behalf of the UK, er, Chief Police Officers. Examples of that is we produce a, we’re now to produce again a UK tactical assessment, we produce strategic and tactical assessments, erm, for wildlife crime across the United Kingdom. And to give you an idea of, in terms of strategic way ahead of things that we’ve been involved with this last year, erm, I talked last year at this conference about us re-focusing on the UK wildlife crime priorities, er, we have a strategic review of the UK wildlife crime priorities, should have occurred in January this year but with various funding issues that’s now been put back to September, er, this year, so we’ll be looking at all those wildlife crime priorities. We’ve, we, we’ve reviewed how we deliver the national intelligence model processes, the, the focus in the past in the unit has been very much on trying to provide, er, a, a full picture but based around incidents, incident recording, and that’s caused us real problems and we, we’ve gone back to the core business of intelligence, dealing with intelligence and intelligence actions. Er, as head of unit, I said last year about wanting to drive deliveries and outcomes with the priority delivery groups, er, and we’re looking at, er, the work we’ve done of driving the consistency of approach across all of the priority delivery group areas. The Minister mentioned earlier on that the six priorities, you know, we’re trying to push ahead with those as much as we can in terms of consistency.
Ok, but we’re there also to support other types of criminal investigations across the UK and internationally and I’m just going to give one example. Erm, you know, you hear reference to wildlife crime but if you take wildlife out of it it’s still crime and to give an example of – the gentleman on the left-hand side there with the bird, er, he was prosecuted south of the border last year, er, during a series of investigations that we, we mounted on a link to an Interpol operation. Interesting he sold a bird, erm, to the gentleman on the bottom right-hand side there, erm, and during the course of that investigation we identified that that sale had occurred had been done through the use of a mobile phone. It was actually that use of that mobile phone that has now led to the, the gentleman on the bottom right-hand side now being linked and er, convicted of conspiracy to commit, er, multiple burglaries, erm, that was all found to result of intelligence submitted by wildlife crime officers, erm, linked to a mobile phone. That isn’t wildlife crime but it is crime, yeah? And it’s really important that people understand that’s a problem we’ve got as well.
Ok, we’re there also to support a network of police wildlife crime officers. Last year I talked about a black hole, erm, and that intelligence units from a policing point of view are often looked at as a black hole, that we got all of this information that comes in and actually people see very little that comes out from us, we’ve tried to turn that around over the last year.
Ok, so again last year, erm, in putting that in context, we talked about disrupting criminality, er, intelligence processing by NWCU increasing with new staff is aiding police officers so I’ve talked about the extra policing staff that we’ve got, er, we wanna make the NWCU relevant not only to police officers but to everybody else. Erm, we’re there to provide operational support, we’re a free resource available. Erm, and one of the things we put in place last year is, we talked about was, looking to do a weekly dissemination of key intelligence issues to police wildlife crime officers but when we reviewed that we actually looked at it, looked to get a, a fortnightly intelligence bulletin, er, and the 20th edition of that, er, actually circulated yesterday across the United Kingdom.
Ok, just to put it in context, the Minister mentioned earlier on about priorities and the areas we look at. Everything that we deal with now from the national intelligence model point of view is focused around three key areas: prevention, intelligence and enforcement, the ACC mentioned that as well. In terms of intelligence issues, er, Fresh Water Pearl Mussel is an example of something we’ve been involved with directly, er, many of you know Charlie Everitt has led on some of these issues and it’s about one of the issues that we have with Fresh Water Pearl Mussel is we have a gap, how do we close that gap, erm, and put into place an operation that involved visits to, er, a number of jewellers across Scotland and, er, down south as well, trying to establish was there a trade whether illegal or legal trade of Fresh Water Pearl Mussels. You know, what is that gap, is there, is there something going on there that may be driving that? So they’re the sort of areas that we focused on to try and fill these gaps.
Ok we’ve got other intelligence requirements as well, er, we’ve been looking at, to give you an example of other work that’s moved on, er, the illegal taking of wild bird eggs is one of those intelligence requirements, not a priority area but it’s something that’s been sat there causing us concern, er, from the intelligence we’ve received, so we’re looking actually now to a revamp of operations, we’ve been looking at, erm, and even taking wild bird eggs, case such as Matthew Gonshaw has been discussed over the last, er, year or two at different conferences, er, of the serial egg collector being convicted in Scotland, we’ve identified er, from intelligence reports and in addition to getting egg collectors we’re also getting people involved increasingly in nest disturbances. Interestingly some of those who are involved in nest disturbances are also, erm, people that have been previously convicted of egg collecting, erm, so we’ve revamped Operation Easter and Alan, Alan who led on that initially in his Tayside days is now going to be leading on that within the unit for us on Operation Easter.
We looked at considering other platforms, er, for the police as well particularly and we’ve put together, erm, through a number of different people, erm, a, a wildlife crime messaging process on the Police On-Line Knowledge Area commonly called POLKA and it’s about sharing knowledge and information, erm, we’ve now got 302 members of, er, wildlife crime community, er, we’ve got 72 active discussions that are on-going at the moment.
So going forward into 2014 2013, er, through the rest of the year, what are the challenges that we’ve got. We wanna look at, erm, better representation on, on POLKA, particularly er, in Scotland. We’ve got very good representation south of the border, we don’t have as many people as we’ll really like, er, up in Scotland and it’s available POLKA, although it’s called the Police On-Line Knowledge Area it is actually available to people who are on pnn email system but it’s also available to people in the gsi, that’s government agencies as well. Erm, particularly south of the border we do have a, a number of, of individuals from organisations like, er, Natural England, er, who signed up to that and actually take active part on and raise discussions as well there. It’s not available, POLKA is not available to non-government organisations but there is no reason why anybody from a non-governmental organisation if they want us to raise a query, er, to try and find out, er, issues, to try and gauge the views of people on there put it out to the full wildlife crime community.
We’re hoping over the next year to develop a partnership bulletin. I’ve mentioned the two-weekly intelligence bulletin that are prepared for police officers and law enforcement agencies, we’re hoping to produce that as a partnership bulletin that will highlight key issues and look for support there. We haven’t yet decided how we’re actually going to deliver that, er, but it may well be that we can do it from our live website, we’re in the process at the moment of actually developing, many of you will have seen it, we’ve had a website that’s sat there for a lengthy period of time, we’re trying to push ahead with that now and hopefully over the next month we’ll actually start to go live with the full new updated website.
Ok in terms of the enforcement challenges, you know, it’s really important, you’ve heard talk already, erm, from the Minister and, er, er, from the Assistant Chief Constable, you know, we’ve got challenges. We wanna be looking at opportunities, you know, our role from a policing point of view is that we have to support the majority who undertake lawful activities, we’ve gotta target the minority of people who undermine the, those operating at a local, national, er, serious and organised, international levels as well.
And a final idea I’ve just put on there, this is an issue particularly south of the border, erm, the badger cull, yeah? We, we, we need to be aware, erm, you know, we look at that, what’s going on south of the border, whether there be any type of implications of that, there are, there are political challenges with those but our role from the policing point of view obviously is to investigate crime and to support officers involved in that.
Ok, one of our big areas is absolutely key areas that we need to, need to address is bird of prey persecution. Key that we’ve gotta work with partners on all sides shooting and conservation organisations, you know, it is the role of the police to investigate wildlife crime and the NWCU and PWCOs work to very strict protocols relating to different issues such as surveillance, investigation, interviewing people, er, handling of productions, disclosure of evidence and with all of these as with any of the other priority areas intelligence is absolutely key. I’ve mentioned it throughout my talk, it’s absolutely key for us, it’s not about intelligence directly to the unit, it’s about getting it into your local wildlife crime officers who will then feed it to us. It’s a massive opportunities and massive advantages in, in Scotland, you’ve got a, the police have got a single intelligence data base, we don’t have that south of the border, yeah? You’ve got opportunities there for the intelligence does get fed in for wildlife crime, we’ll get to know about it and be able to work with the wildlife crime officers to, to progress that.
What we aim to provide is, provide support to Police Scotland in the new structures that the ACC has, has mentioned. Again, you’ve got massive opportunities and I see that over the next year that you’ve got real opportunities to work more closely. The unit is there not just for Charlie Everitt to provide support, er, you’ve got the whole backroom staff to provide support as and when we need to, you know, we can bring the resources from south of the border up to support investigations and, er, up here as well. We can provide that, that support to the new, er, new force.
Other things we’re thinking about is, you know, who are the top wildlife criminals in Scotland? From a policing point of view we often look at it, erm, general policing, you know, we have what we call target criminals, we have key people but who are the people that we need to be looking at in Scotland? We need to identify those people. We’ll support actions to target them, it’s not just about intelligence but taking intelligence, analyse it, we wanna look at how we can put disruption methods in, into place, erm, enforcement and then as the Minister said earlier on, we need to, we need to take successful prosecutions and support those.
What we need from everybody here is, is early contact. Intelligence from partners. As I said, that intelligence needs to come through police wildlife crime officers, feed it in in whichever way you can, er, that’ll get to us we will then work closely with forces, with the new, er, teams that are gonna be in place, erm, early contact from PWCOs as well, those of you that are out there that haven’t perhaps, er, dealt with, with me, investigations, you know, we are a free resource, we’re there to support you, erm, please I’ll reiterate it time and time again that we’ve found over the last year that officers get involved in enquiries that, erm, they don’t have experience, that they are not competent in and can make some poor judgements. What we aim to do is not, we don’t come and take over cases, we’re there to provide you with providing support to you from the earliest point, that’ll be not just from the first point of intelligence but it’ll be to take you right through the case. Once you’ve been through a case you understand how we work, you come back, people come back time and again to work with us.
Ok, as I said, my name is Nevin Hunter, I’ve just covered some of the key things that we’ve dealt with over the last year and, er, also where we’re looking to go ahead now. The role that we play is to supply support to the police, erm, it’s all about that provision of support from all the different areas that I’ve talked about. But wherever we go to with any type of investigation you can’t go anywhere thereafter without taking a case, er, successfully through court, and what I’m gonna hand on to now, erm, is to, to Craig Harris, erm, to, er, discuss issues in terms of the, er, the role that the Crown Office, er, have played over the last year, er, and it’s absolutely key to our role, the National Wildlife Crime Unit so for police officers to take cases forward successfully. Thank you”.
Another barely coherent presentation (for the second year running). You might forgive him that if you could see that the NWCU are delivering on tackling raptor persecution, but as far as we can tell, they’re still not. We can’t comment on whether they’re delivering on other types of wildlife crime because that’s not our area of expertise, but casual conversations with representatives of other specialist wildlife interest groups suggests that at least some of them are similarly dissatisfied.
He asks who are the top wildlife criminals in Scotland? We reckon most regular readers of this blog would be able to answer that. Why doesn’t he already know?
He talks about re-launching Operation Easter (aimed at catching egg collectors) but openly admits this is not one of the six national wildlife crime priorities. Why re-launch it then? Yes, illegal egg-collecting is a serious wildlife crime and there is the odd high-profile case, but we all know that ever since custodial sentences were introduced several years ago, this particular crime has dropped significantly. The NWCU said themselves that last year the known number of egg-thieves had dropped to ‘an all-time low’ (see here). Could it be that getting convictions for this crime (which is a whole lot easier than getting a conviction for poisoning/shooting/trapping a raptor) reflects well on the NWCU in terms of annual success rates? Fine, catch the egg collectors and lock them up, they deserve it, but don’t do it at the expense of tackling the national priorities, notably the raptor persecutors.
Reading between the lines, we think this presentation subtly aims to marginalise the work of the RSPB and SSPCA in terms of addressing raptor persecution. There is much emphasis placed on reporting incidents to police wildlife crime officers (who he then slags off for being inexperienced and incompetent), but no mention of the ability and experience of these two non-police, non-governmental organisations, one of whom holds the only long-term database of raptor persecution incidents in the country and the other has its own law enforcement capabilities. We’ve blogged about this before when the new PAW Scotland raptor crime reporting protocols were published (see here). Many of us are no longer prepared to report incidents to the police, simply because we’ve had too many experiences of the report being ignored or mis-handled. The discovery of these crimes is a rare event, given the remoteness of most of the crime locations, so we simply cannot afford to have the police cock up the investigation. Yes, there are some excellent police wildlife crime officers out there, some of whom we’ve blogged about on here, but there are also some bloody crap ones. Unless you know who’s who, you run the risk that absolutely nothing will happen as a result of your report. At least if you report it to the RSPB and SSPCA you can be fairly confident that they’ll look into it, and, if necessary, bring in the police. Importantly, they’ll also chase up the police if they find that the investigation isn’t progressing as it should.
There’s nothing we’d like more than to be able to report NWCU successes in the raptor persecution field, but, as the recent Deeside golden eagle ‘investigation’ showed, we are still a long way from being able to do that.