ECCLR review of wildlife crime report: session 1

Last week the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session in which to review the Scottish Government’s 2015 Annual Wildlife Crime Report.

The archived video can be watched here

The official transcript can be read here: ecclr-transcript-wildlife-crime-10-jan-2017

The evidence session took place in two parts: the first session involved witnesses from Police Scotland and the Crown Office, and the second session heard evidence from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Badgers, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the Bat Conservation Trust.

This blog focuses on session 1 (we’ll blog about session 2 in another blog).


The witnesses in session 1 were Gary Aitken (Crown Office), ACC Steve Johnson and DCS Sean Scott (Police Scotland). DCS Scott has appeared in front of this committee in previous years (when it was the RACCE committee) but this was a first time appearance for ACC Johnson and Gary Aitken.

Session 1 lasted for about two hours and it’s fair to say these witnesses were given quite a grilling. The ECCLR Committee was extremely well informed and in some cases there was some pretty persistent (but respectful) questioning, notably by Mark Ruskell MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP.

We’ve already blogged about part of this session (see here) in relation to Police Scotland’s inability to answer Mark Ruskell’s question about why some confirmed raptor crimes had been withheld from the Government’s 2015 report. We await Police Scotland’s written explanation to the Committee in due course. A similar problem was raised in this session re: the huge discrepancy between the number of crimes against badgers recorded by Scottish Badgers ( n = 42) and those recorded by Police Scotland (n = 5). Again, Police Scotland has been asked to provide a written explanation to the Committee, which will be important because this appears to be a recurring issue. It was good to hear  though, that Police Scotland has recently set up some new reporting mechanisms with Scottish Badgers, as well as training days for officers. Hopefully this will improve communication and understanding between them.

There was good discussion about increased powers for the SSPCA (Police Scotland appears to have softened its stance on this a bit, although we’re all STILL waiting for the Environment Cabinet Secretary to announce the Government’s position on these increased powers), agreement that increased penalties for wildlife crime would be very welcome, and also agreement on the importance of being able to identify accountable individuals for potential vicarious liability prosecutions. All good.

On the whole, Police Scotland and the Crown Office were far more circumspect at this hearing than in previous appearances. We were very pleased to hear ACC Johnson acknowledge that the full extent of wildlife crime in Scotland is an ‘unknown’, in complete contrast to his predecessor’s (ACC Malcolm Graham) ludicrous claims that Police Scotland ‘wasn’t missing much of it’ (see here).

We were also very pleased to hear ACC Johnson’s acknowledgement that the scientific / academic evidence [of the effect of persecution on the distribution and abundance of raptor populations] was a “strong part” of the evidence of wildlife crime.  However, none of this scientific evidence had appeared in the Government’s 2015 annual report and Mark Ruskell MSP asked what progress had been made in assessing this evidence; something ACC Graham had committed to doing last year. The responses from ACC Johnson and DCS Scott were utterly astounding. They both said they’d be happy to look at the scientific evidence ‘if it was brought to their attention’.

What? Are they for real? Are they seriously suggesting they’re unaware of the massive body of scientific evidence? They’re having a laugh, aren’t they?

How many peer-reviewed scientific reports and papers have been published on this issue in the last 20 years? Bloody loads of them! Here’s a list of some of them and hereherehere are some more that have been published in the last year alone and here, here are some preliminary scientific results, all widely reported in the media, that are due to be written up as scientific papers in the immediate future.

Sorry, ACC Johnson and DCS Scott, your claimed ignorance of the scientific evidence just doesn’t wash. Especially DCS Scott, who chairs the PAW Raptor Group, where some of these scientific results have been frequently discussed.

So why claim ignorance? Was it to cover up Police Scotland’s inaction on this issue? If so, that’s not nearly good enough. For two years in a row now Police Scotland has committed to assessing the scientific evidence and incorporating it in to its ‘intelligence-led’ investigations. We, and no doubt the ECCLR Committee, will expect to see progress on this when the Government’s 2016 annual report is published later this year.

18 thoughts on “ECCLR review of wildlife crime report: session 1”

  1. Many thanks RPUK for the reporting of session 1

    I like many others followed the debate and as you state above the responses by the two police officers was incredible in their lack of knowledge of their subject.

    You have highlighted it all and good for you to do so.

    Once again you have risen to the task of astute reporting on subjects that the climate & environment committee undertakes on our behalf.

    I like you was quite impressed by the thorough questioning undertaken by some members of the committee

    We now await answers.

  2. Can we just call the police wildlife plan “Operation Ostrich” going forward, for all the times they’ve stuck their head in the sand?

  3. “So why claim ignorance?” – because some people just do not want to break the status quo of the present system of the grouse shooting system. They’re frightened stiff that ‘they’ might be the one who actually helps to put a stop to the unnecessary crime against wildlife.

    1. Frightened stiff that they’ll be bumped out of the golf club and not get some nice post-nominal letters more like as revenge from their lordships.

      1. Yes, I remain to be convinced as to which side Police Scotland are batting for. So much for investigating all crime with impartiality… one of their ‘Primary Objectives’ by the way! I can understand the ACC being a little ‘out of touch’ to a certain extent as he will be only as good as he has been briefed. But certainly not the man at the ‘sharp end’ – the Detective Sergeant. I think the ACC needs to ask some searching questions of his own to his DCS – and then replace him as something is not quite right here!

        1. A DS’s primary objective is to make DI. The searching question they need asked is to whom do they look to for that bump and who is pulling their strings. A DS who arrests the wrong people (which is not the same as the innocent people) will never get their bump.

          It is ridiculous that wildlife crime across the entirety of Scotland is the preserve of a mere DS anyway. It ought to be a full D/Supt and a team based out of Glasgow.

          [Ed: Sean Scott is a DCS, not a DS. That’s a pretty high rank, and his boss is an ACC]

          1. Re: Ed. Ah, well that is different then. Feel free to strike my reply in its entirety if you wish. I retract my comments. Certainly the second part. The generalities of the first still apply in general, but not in specific, but are not relevant to this instance.

            1. My apologies to you too crypticmirror for leading you astray. I, if anyone should know what a DCS is but for some reason I suffered a senior moment and didn’t C the C! That’s not to say that he should not be demoted anyway for the lamentable performance he put in at the hearing – it is so unbelievable it is just, well, unbelievable!

              1. Eh, it happens. I should have double checked my facts too. Ah well, the person who never made a mistake never made nothing, as they say.

          2. [Ed: Sean Scott is a DCS, not a DS. That’s a pretty high rank…]

            Not disputing this but according to Wikipedia
            ‘It is a misconception often portrayed by the media that detective ranks are superior to those of uniformed officers[citation needed]. In the United Kingdom, this is not the case, and a detective sergeant has the same powers and authority as a uniformed sergeant. The “Detective” prefix designates that the officer has a proven investigative ability and has received suitable training and passed related examinations, to conduct all manner of criminal investigations.’
            and in the CID section
            ‘Contrary to practice of police forces of many other nations, detectives are not automatically senior to uniformed officers and hold the same ranks. The head of the CID in most police forces is a Detective Chief Superintendent.’
            The Police Scotland section says
            ‘Police Scotland uses the same rank structure and insignia as other police forces in the United Kingdom’

            The police website
            doesn’t mention detectives as being of a higher rank.

  4. There is required to be a massive shake-up of the way wildlife crime is dealt with in the UK.
    People with a passion for nature should be the ones at the head of affairs, not just some copper prepared to take on the role on top of all the other stuff he/she has to deal with.
    It needs a specialist police force that deals with no other than wildlife crime.

  5. Same old, same old – the reality is I see very little difference in the commitment of the police in Scotland on wildlife crime between the 1980s and the present. Theyve just got better at waffling. I think I can boil down the ACCs contribution to “we cant do anything because we dont like the way the data is handled”.Its just a smokescreen to cover up the fact that at the top end the police dont want to get involved because they dont see it as real crime and it involves establishment figures…Meanwhile they get in the way of the SSPCA..who are suddenly “only a charity” despite the fact they have been handling crimes involving animals and taking that load away from the police for the best part of 175 years!

  6. For a senior police officer to claim that the sspca are only a charity and only report minor animal issues is very worrying.

    You only need to Google the long list of examples where the sspca have investigated successfully.

    Dog fighting
    Badger baiting
    Badger snaring
    Illegal snaring
    Seal shooting
    Buzzard shooting
    And have used very specialist methods including covert survialllance (latest RSPB legal eagle)

    The list goes on and on…..

    Why would a senior police office seek to undermine or down play this.All of the above are very serious crimes.

    I could see very little examples of police scotland investigating wildlife crime.
    I did however find reference to the collapse of an serious egg collecting case police appear to have botched.

    Police Scotland needs to come clean on wildlife crime and instead of making false claims of partnership working.

    SSPCA are consistently displaying an ability to investigate wildlife crime and it raises serious concerns when the police and other agencies involved in wildlife crime would apparently seek to mislead and misrepresent this to the Scottish parliament.

    Not to mention failing to include wildlife crime statistics.
    Claims that water bailiffs no longer use enforcement powers when the opposite was seen on a recent TV programme.

    This confirms changes are needed and increasing SSPCA powers is a step in the right direction.

    1. “Why would a senior police office seek to undermine or down play this.All of the above are very serious crimes.”

      Why indeed!

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