Last month, Liam McArthur MSP posed a series of parliamentary questions following our report on the poisoned peregrine found in the Leadhills area of South Lanarkshire (see here).
His four questions have now been answered; two by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, and two by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse:
Question S4W-20745: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014
To ask the Scottish Government what steps Police Scotland is taking to ensure that its staff are aware of their responsibilities regarding the protection of protected species.
Answered by Kenny MacAskill (15/05/2014):
The training of wildlife crime officers is a matter solely for the Chief Constable. It is not appropriate for Scottish Ministers to seek to intervene on operational policing matters.
I can advise however that since Police Scotland came into being on 1 April 2013, there have been significant changes to the structure and training for wildlife crime officers.
The strategic lead for wildlife crime which sits in the Specialist Crime Division is held by the Assistant Chief Constable. A Detective Chief Superintendent holds the portfolio lead and the post provides essential direction and governance around strategic issues relating to wildlife crime prevention and investigation.
A full time national Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator at Detective Sergeant level provides engagement with national issues relating to coordination, policy, performance and training, and supports the Detective Chief Superintendent.
In each of the 14 territorial divisions there are wildlife crime liaison officers who are supported by a Superintendent (or above). Wildlife crime officer posts can be either full or part-time and deal with crime prevention and investigation when required for operational policing issues.
It is important to highlight that the investigation of wildlife crime is not the exclusive preserve of dedicated staff, and a variety of investigative and intelligence resources and tactics are brought to bear on such matters, from local and national policing.
Our comment: This is basically a cut and paste response from the response he’s just given to Claire Baker MSP. We keep seeing this statement: “It is not appropriate for Scottish Ministers to seek to intervene on operational policing matters”, but hang on a minute, didn’t the Environment Minister ‘seek to intervene’ only ten months ago when he instructed the Lord Advocate to have a word with COPFS and Police Scotland ‘to ensure law enforcement utilises all investigative tools at their disposal in the fight against wildlife crime’? (see here). What’s that if it isn’t an intervention?
Question S4W-20746: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will hold an inquiry into reports that Police Scotland told a member of the public that the poisoning of a peregrine falcon in the Leadhills area was not a police matter.
Answered by Kenny MacAskill (15/05/2014):
Police Scotland is committed to investigating wildlife crime and have confirmed that on this occasion well established protocols and processes were adhered to in order to allow the bird to be recovered successfully. As a result of this, and the subsequent analysis carried out by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture identified that the bird had been poisoned, Police Scotland is now working in cooperation with both RSPB and National Wildlife Crime Unit to fully investigate this crime.
In any given case, police call handlers must consider the information they are given at the time of the call and not all reported incidents may be crimes. Police Scotland has also confirmed that no official complaint has been received from the reporter of the original incident.
Our comment: The police call handler told the member of the public (who was reporting this dead peregrine that had been found in suspicious circumstances in an area notorious for raptor crime) that it wasn’t a police matter. That is a fact. The police response was not in adherence with ‘well established protocols and processes’, as Mr MacAskill claims, unless those protocols and processes include ignoring a suspected wildlife crime. The only reason this poisoned peregrine was recovered successfully was because the member of the public bothered to call the RSPB, who then attended and collected the corpse. If the member of the public had not bothered to call the RSPB, this poisoned bird would not have been picked up nor recorded in the wildlife crime stats. That is also a fact. Police Scotland screwed up on this one, and rather than admit it and ensure they have procedures in place to stop it happening again, they are claiming success. That’s not very impressive. And they wonder why the public is losing (has already lost?) confidence in their ability to cope with wildlife crime?!
Question S4W-20747: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014
To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to combat illegal raptor persecution in the Leadhills area.
Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (12/05/2014):
The Leadhills area has been identified as a poisoning ‘hotspot’ in the maps that are published annually by the Scottish Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime. There have also been incidents in the area involving illegal shooting of raptors.
Operational policing and the targeting of enforcement activity in any specific area is a matter solely for Police Scotland.
The Scottish Government works closely with the police, conservation groups and landowners through the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland. The PAW Scotland Raptor Group has established a short-life working group tasked with developing a clear message that raptor persecution must stop now. The message will have the explicit backing of all PAW partners and be aimed in particular at those areas where raptor persecution is most persistent.
See also my response to S4W-20748 on 12 May 2014 which sets out the additional steps being taken by the Scottish Government and partners to combat illegal raptor persecution.
Our comments: Oh brilliant, here comes the PAW Raptor Scotland Group to save the day, once they’ve decided how to ‘develop a clear message that raptor persecution must stop now’. Is Wheelhouse really so stupid? The PAW Scotland Raptor Group has been established since 2009 (formerly called the Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group). They’ve had five (yes, five) years to develop a clear message that raptor persecution must stop! Why the hell do they have to form a ‘working group’ to come up with a few lines?? It’s simple, isn’t it? STOP ILLEGALLY PERSECUTING RAPTORS NOW. There, that’ll do it. Although perhaps when you realise which organisations are represented on this group (see here) it’ll become apparent why they’ve achieved so little in so long. We’ve been particularly scathing of this group before (see here) and we’ve seen no reason to change that view.
Question S4W-20748: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 15/04/2014
To ask the Scottish Government whether there is sufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of the new enforcement measures to tackle raptor persecution announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change on 1 July 2013.
Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (09/05/2014):
There is not yet sufficient evidence to assess the effectiveness of the new measures announced on 1 July 2013. A report on the review of penalties is due by the end of the year and the changes to the general licences will be fully implemented by Scottish Natural Heritage over the next few months. The use by the police of the full range of investigative techniques in raptor persecution cases is an operational matter, however it is unlikely that results would be seen less than 12 months after the announcement of new measures.
Our comment: It’s becoming more and more apparent that Wheelhouse won’t be pinned down to give a time scale for how long he’s prepared to wait to see whether these new measures have any effect. Is he thinking in terms of months or years? A lot will probably depend on the number of raptor crimes that are uncovered during the rest of this year, and particularly, the public’s response to those crimes. We must maintain this pressure on the government to act.
Well done again to MSPs Claire Baker and Liam McArthur for keeping these issues at the forefront of parliamentary business.