More procrastination on extending SSPCA powers

sspca logoLast month we blogged about a series of Parliamentary questions relating to wildlife crime that had been lodged by recently elected Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell (see here).

One of those questions was about giving extended powers to the SSPCA:

Question S5W-00030 (Lodged 12/5/2016)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will announce its decision regarding extending the powers of the Scottish SPCA to tackle wildlife crime.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has now responded with this:

A decision on whether to extend the investigatory powers of the Scottish SPCA will be announced in due course.

That’s it. No explanation for the protracted delay (it’s been over five years since the public consultation was first suggested, and twenty months since that public consultation closed) and no time estimate of when this decision might be announced. Just, “in due course“. Marvellous.

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about how Dumfries & Galloway Council had recently given extended powers to the SSPCA to allow them to tackle the illegal puppy farm trade (see here). We argued that if the SSPCA was entrusted with extended powers to tackle serious organised crime, there should be no good reason why they shouldn’t be given extended powers to tackle wildlife crime.

Something else the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment might want to consider is the result of an SSPCA investigation which ended in Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday (see here). As a result of a covert surveillance operation, Craig Aitken, 43, pleaded guilty to setting 47 illegal snares, without authorisation, on Seggarsdean Farm in Haddington, East Lothian in January 2015. He was also convicted of stealing some of the SSPCA’s covert cameras, which, unbeknownst to him, had GPS trackers attached which enabled the SSPCA to trace them to Aitken’s home (see here). The evidence against him was so strong that he didn’t contest the charges. Yesterday he was sentenced with a 180 hour Community Payback Order and a six-month Restriction of Liberty Order which requires him to remain at home between the hours of 9pm and 8am. As an aside, someone else with the name Craig Aitken, of the same age, in the same town of Haddington, was convicted in September 2015 for exactly the same offence (setting illegal snares on another farm, caught by an SSPCA covert surveillance operation!) and received a 200-hour Community Service Order (see here). What a coincidence, eh? Those penalties for wildlife crime are really working as a deterrent.

its-not-fair1The reason we’ve mentioned this recent wildlife crime conviction is because this case demonstrates a number of things about the ability and competence of the SSPCA to conduct wildlife crime investigations; things that those opposing extended powers for the SSPCA (Police Scotland, gamekeepers, estate owners etc) said the SSPCA couldn’t do.

One of the main objections they gave to the SSPCA receiving extended powers was the SSPCA’s supposed lack of impartiality. It was claimed that because the SSPCA campaigns for a ban on snares, the charity couldn’t possibly remain impartial when investigating wildlife crimes involving snaring offences. Oops! This recent conviction for snaring offences suggests otherwise.

Another objection was that SSPCA Inspectors don’t undergo “the same rigorous training, selection and vetting” as police officers so they shouldn’t be allowed to undertake criminal investigations. Oops! This recent wildlife crime conviction suggests otherwise.

Another objection was that there may be resistance from the public who view these powers as a traditional remit of the police. Oops! We don’t see the public objecting to this latest wildlife crime conviction on the grounds that the SSPCA investigated and Police Scotland didn’t.

Another objection was that the SSPCA is “unequipped” to deal with RIP(S)A regulations (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which puts strict controls on when surveillance operations are permitted and how they are to be conducted. These regulations only apply to public bodies, e.g. police, customs). Oops! This recent wildlife crime conviction, based on the use of covert surveillance (albeit with the landowner’s permission) suggests otherwise.

Isn’t it about time the Scottish Government stops procrastinating over this issue and gives extended powers to the SSPCA to allow them to bring their expertise and proven skills to bear against those who continue to illegally kill birds of prey? This is supposed to be a National Wildlife Crime Priority. Let’s see Scot Gov treat it as such.

21 thoughts on “More procrastination on extending SSPCA powers”

  1. ‘GPS trackers attached which enabled the SSPCA to trace them to Aitken’s home’
    Not so hilarious that that name, age and town seem to be very unlucky.
    Luckily the sheriff realised the resemblance was entirely co-incidental and didn’t take the first person’s conviction into account.

  2. Well, at least something /someone is working to protect the Scottish wildlife. More power to their elbow, but the unhelpful response doesn’t bode well for the future. Pathetic !

  3. Could the limited response be due to some reconsideration taking place in the light of the success of the SSPCA investigations you quote? I won’t hold my breath but I will keep my fingers crossed.

  4. This decision will be the real test of this government’s resolution over fighting wildlife crime but also in breaking the mould over real change in our countryside. If they go against SSPCA getting powers on wildlife crime investigation its a clear indication that they are favouring the shooting lobby and a small coterie of their chums in Police Scotland over the clear will of the people…its as important as that.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Dave. It’s a real opportunity for Scot Gov to send a clear message to the raptor killers, which is why it’s unsettling that successive Environment Ministers have so far failed to give it any urgent attention.

      1. Or an opportunity for them to be exposed as a bunch of people who have successfully used the long grass to avoid making controversial decisions….

  5. I think we all have to mail our individual MSP’s and ask “Why is this crime allowed to continue”. It is obviously important that the snp government gets it right, but they have had 5 years, and probably hundreds of raptor deaths. I do suspect that the estates will have threatened court action through SLA, but come on ! a crime is a crime, no matter who commits it.

    In these days of police cutbacks, you would think the governments would be falling over themselves to accept this help, because it seems that the police have neither the manpower or expertise.

  6. Just goes to show you what an organisation the SSPCA is when they can get their house in order to do surveillance work which catches out criminals in the countryside. Fantastic effort, well done.

    It is what I have said before about Police Scotland. They go after many types of criminals with surveillance type operations and have done so for many years. I know as I used to look after them when they were in custody at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

    Why do they not put the same amount of effort into what Donald Dewar said all these years ago was as a ‘National Disgrace’.

  7. An excellent coverage of this matter again, RPUK.
    It’s just a shame the criminal’s representatives read this, but the government continues to ignore it, and the RSPB doesn’t let us, it’s members know what is going on in these investigations and prosecutions. I’m sure your coverage is better and more amusing than their’s would be, and I’m sure plenty RSPB staff and volunteers read this blog as well, even though they are prevented from reporting completed cases and police appeals.

  8. Great as usual RPUK. If Scotland isn’t careful we will most definatly lose our good reputation regarding wildlife to south of the border. In Devon I read they have just released more Beavers into a secret location. What happens up here? we allow our farmers to kill them on the river Tay, whilst the SNP keep differing on the official release programme.

  9. If I was to say I knew of a group of people who go out regularly and break the law, that these people are paid to do so and that the people who pay them benefit financially from this arrangement, that the people paying the law breakers also get large payments directly from the government who in turn continually turn a blind eye to the activities of these people, that if one of the law breakers gets caught, top Lawyers are employed to get them off on minor technicalities, would you think I was talking about 1930’s Chicago? Would I be referring to David Cameron’s recent comments on fantastically corrupt Nigeria and Afghanistan or would I be talking about the Grouse Moors of Northern England and Scotland
    organised crime simple definition, (ongoing conspiratorial enterprises engaged in illicit activities as a means of generating income)
    Government ministers are paid to do a job, we’ve just got rid of one minister who did nothing lets hope we have not inherited another, there is a glaringly simple answer to giving the SSPCA extra powers, that is unless you have something to hide

    1. I failed to add strong suspicions of money laundering into non EU bank accounts, Tax evasion and that the perpetrators are also heavily armed!
      Worrying comment from the blog on the 25th May

      “Mountain hares
      Although there is no issue over population reduction, it continues to be highly emotive and even a long distance photograph of a cull is enough for the Herald and social media. Meeting arranged with GWCT, SNH, and CNPA [Cairngorms National Park Authority] on 27 April to tighten up joint statement.”

      Does this come across to anyone else that SNH and CNPA are being controlled and told what they have to do

      1. There’s no question that that’s the truth Merlin, although CPNA do make the occasional squeak in protest, being fair. I expect that at the next board meeting the board members will try to put a stop to that.

        1. I would have preferred to have seen a leaked memo from SNH to SLE saying someone needs to get their sorry ass around to SNH and explain why after being asked to show voluntary restraint on culling mountain hare’s did photos appear in the national press of gamekeepers from several estates partaking in a mass cull, personally I think the job of environment minister is to big for a woman, without being sexist Paul Wheelhouse struggled, Eileen McCloud lost it from the beginning being pictured with the gift of grouse (the gift that just keeps giving to the rich) and now a negative start from the new minister, she has probably already realised she is being undermined on all flanks

            1. You would need a Thatcher or Mowlem character to sort this lot out, whereas if you had a man of say ? OK point taken cheap shot from me

  10. Oh dear, what a disappointing start for Roseanna. Not what I had hoped for or expected. No doubt Aitken’s wrists are stinging a bit, but I’m sure his mocking laughter will take away the pain! Absolutely pathetic and no deterrent whatsoever as usual Can anyone tell me who is going to ensure he stays on the ‘naughty step’ between 9pm and 9am.? God help us – but thank you again RPUK and SSPCA.

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