Police Scotland continue to withhold raptor persecution data

Earlier today we blogged about the publication of the RSPB’s 2015 UK Birdcrime report (here).

Have a look at the report’s data appendices: rspb-birdcrime2015_appendices

You’ll notice a statement in relation to Appendix 3 (which is a table of confirmed and probable bird of prey and owl persecution during 2015). That statement says: ‘The details of some confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents cannot be shown, as requested by Police Scotland‘.

You’ll see the same statement in relation to Appendix 4 (which is a table of confirmed poison abuse incidents during 2015).

You’ll see the same statement in relation to the UK map of bird crime incidents 2015.

You’ll notice that no other police force in the UK has applied such restrictions to the publication of incident data, just Police Scotland.

Take a closer look at Appendix 4 (list of confirmed poison abuse incidents) and you’ll notice that not only has Police Scotland withheld the month, species, poison and county of four confirmed poisoning crimes, but they’ve also withheld the name of the poison used in every single Scottish poisoning crime (except one) in 2015. No other police force has done this. Every other police force listed in this table has provided the full details of each confirmed poisoning crime. But not Police Scotland. Why is that?


You might recall that in 2015 the Scottish Government organised a poisons disposal scheme that ran from Feb – May 2015 (see here). This resulted in the handing in of a massive amount of banned poisons (see here). However, it’s clear from the above table that despite this disposal scheme, some banned poisons are still being held and used illegally in Scotland. But without knowledge of the poison used, and in some cases where it was used, when it was used and which species was the victim, it is virtually impossible for us to cross-reference and track these cases.

This withholding of data by Police Scotland also renders the national statistics on raptor persecution utterly pointless. How can we have any faith in the national picture if we know that Police Scotland are refusing to release information, two years on from when the crimes were committed?

The withholding of raptor persecution data appears to be becoming a Police Scotland speciality – they’ve done it before with the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution data (see here) and also with the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

Police Scotland’s refusal to publicise some of these crimes is deeply concerning, and especially when that suppression extends to details of crimes in ‘official’ Government reports that are supposed to demonstrate openness and transparency.

Ask yourselves, in whose interest is it to keep these crimes under wraps? You’d be hard pressed to argue that it is in the interests of the general public.

UPDATE 6 Feb 2017: It’s worth re-visiting RSPB Scotland’s written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (10 January 2017) about the withholding of raptor persecution data in the Scottish Government’s annual 2015 wildlife crime report. Here’s a quote:

We note that a number of cases of confirmed raptor persecution have not been included in the Wildlife Crime Report. RSPB Scotland is concerned that increasingly, such data are being withheld from public scrutiny on the basis that cases remain under investigation and/or there is an anticipation that an individual will come forward, as a result of an appeal, with some specialist information that will identify a potential suspect. As far as we are aware, this has never happened, almost certainly due to the culture of silence outlined above‘.

20 thoughts on “Police Scotland continue to withhold raptor persecution data”

  1. As I write there is only one “comment” here which reads “Ed: comment deleted – it’s libellous”. Frankly, it’s very difficult to write any comment here that fully expresses the impotent anger felt at this news that would not be transformed by the rightly cautious editors into “comment deleted – it’s libellous”.

    1. You should try posting a valid and law abiding method of protest which is widely used, that gets deleted too. I know the old RPS used to be quick on the old XXXXX key, but the level of deletions and comment suppressions has gone up markedly in the last few months. It is almost as infuriating as the interference from Police Scotland on the official data. It is hard enough fighting back on this stuff without our lead campaigners nobbling us as well as the old bill.

  2. Information Commissioner’s Office ”
    Public Interest in Releasing the requested information

    The ICO’s document “The public interest test. Freedom of Information Act.” Provides helpful guidance on the FOIA public interest issues.

    9. “The public interest can cover a wide range of values and principles relating to the public good, or what is in the best interests of society. Thus, for example, there is a public interest in transparency and accountability, to promote public understanding and to safeguard democratic processes. There is a public interest in good decision-making by public bodies, in upholding standards of integrity …”

    34. A further example of a potential public interest in transparency is where there is a suspicion of wrongdoing on the part of the public authority. A requester may, for instance, allege that a public authority has committed some form of wrongdoing, and
    that the information requested would shed light on this.

    35. The content of the information is important in making this assessment. It may refute the suspicion, in which case there may be some public interest in disclosing the information in order to clear up misconceptions; or, it may indicate that the
    suspicion is justified (a so-called ‘smoking gun’), in which case there is an even stronger public interest in disclosure.

     Evidence of public concern about the issue could also be a factor for disclosure.

    36. If there is evidence of public concern but those concerns do not have an objective basis, there can still be a public interest argument for disclosure if this would show that the concerns are unjustified and would help restore confidence in the public authority.

    38. Even if wrongdoing is not an issue, there is a public interest in fully understanding the reasons for public authorities’ decisions, to remove any suspicion of manipulating the facts, or ‘spin’. For example, this may well be a public interest argument for
    disclosing advice given to decision makers. The fact that the advice and the reasons for the decision may be complex does not lessen the public interest in disclosing it and may strengthen it. Similarly, the information does not have to give a consistent or coherent picture for disclosure to help public understanding; there is always an argument for presenting the full picture and allowing people to reach their own view. There is also a public interest in the public knowing that an important decision has been based on limited information, if that is the case. “

  3. Who are they protecting? Which names from the list of ELITE landowners would be muddied by the release of such information.

  4. I’m guessing it’s following instructions/discussions with COPFS. The difference between Scotland and the rest is the differing legal system.

  5. I thought the whole idea by the Scottish Government to amalgamate the different Scottish Police Forces was to make them more efficient? Who’s covering up here, Police Scotland, the Scottish Government?
    This appears to be yet another reason why the SCPCA needs to be given extra powers. Maybe they should be funded to take over investigating wildlife crime from the Police Scotland.

  6. It is outrageous, so what do we do about it? Bombard Police Scotland with requests for information? Clog up their Facebook page, any known e-mail addresses, with requests for the information? Do the same to the Ministers responsible for both the police and the environment in Scotland? Complain to the Information Commissioner? I don’t know what would be most effective but something needs to be done.

    [Ed: a high profile journalist is currently following up on this. But by all means, contact Police Scotland yourself and ask why this information is being withheld]

  7. What I have been concerned about for many years, is the lack of interest shown by our politicians relating to matters of conservation of our endangered wildlife, and environmentally harmful developments. Being a member of many different national and international organisations working to save wildlife, endangered tribal peoples living sustainable lives, and to oppose proposed industrial developments that would lay more of our planet as wasteland, I have been asked to contact my MP, MSP or MEP, and found little or no interest from most of them. Just look at the list of interests of politicians, and you will see very few have shown support for aninmal welfare and conservation causes. When will the public waken up to the fact that Scotland has a long way to go to become a more humanely managed country. Police Scotland has been severely criticised over various issues, that have shown poor performance on matters relating to human welfare, so how can we expect much vigour to be shown to deal with the criminals who infest our wild areas, killing our Birds of Prey and other wildlife? The practitioners of blood sports have a very powerful influence, and thereby control over just how effective law enforcement will be, and that is the only conclusion I find from the reluctance to publish data on wildlife crime. We must combine/unite more to keep up the heat on the Establishment, and to inform and educate young people, that we can build a new generation that will find it intolerable that Scotland has suffered its wildlife and animals in general, to be cruelly treated,. We are existing with a huge turd whose stink we will have to endure until that change of mind and attention given, comes into existence, and that means keeping up the good work of fighting back through organisations like RPS.

  8. This is not good enough.

    Police Scotland are continually showing themselves not to be trusted on wildlife crime issues.

    SSPCA would improve things across the board. They appear to be able to operate without being influenced.

    Giving them additional powers has to be a must.

  9. Almost certainly what you are looking at here is pressure applied by high profile defence QCs and other defence agents who bamboozle high ranking police officers by suggesting [quite wrongly] that the police would be publicly criticised if cases fell because of prejudicial early release of evidence. They also come under pressure from the same quarter by suggesting that naming an estate or farm would be libellous to the landowner. The BBC have also, in my direct experience, bowed to such pressure….which of course is only in the interest of the alleged perpetrators and not the public.

    Where the game will change radically [and I hope I never see this happen but its very possible] is when a human being gets poisoned by one of the “name withheld” poisons on an area of land where poisoning has been reported to the police but the public were never told.I cannot understand, given the deadly nature of carbamate poisons in particular, why public safety does not override the almost infinitesmal number of successful cases, which might just be slightly affected by releasing the locations of poisoning incidents. In my day [mainly the 1990s] I pushed very hard and often successfully, to have joint Police/RSPB/ dept of Ag field investigations and building searches carried out within days of a report of a poisoning. The two reasons I gave for the need for urgency were 1. safety for the public and wildlife and 2. to prevent the perpetrator being alerted.

    Whats gone wrong??

  10. The Information Commissioner operates under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which in Scotland applies only to UK wide public authorities – Police Scotland is not one of them. The relevant Act is instead the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which also creates exemptions related to, among other things, investigations (section 34) and law enforcement (section 35). If I was concerned why the information is withheld I would probably ask Police Scotland to release it and if refused then would appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner (whose decision can also be appealed on a point of law to the Court of Session).

    I don’t think that Police Scotland would normally release information which may be prejudicial to investigations or criminal proceedings, and – unless it relates to operational matters – would instead refer these decisions to a procurator fiscal who is probably better placed to make these decisions than police officers (or indeed the RSPB).

    Conspiracies do happen, but I’m not convinced that this overly cautious approach has anything to do with keeping this information under the wrap. (In fact I suspect most cover-ups are just attempts to hide mistakes, rather than evil plans to mislead the public.)

    I think anyone who implies that there is some sort of systematic conspiracy between Police Scotland and COPFS regarding the suppressions of raptor persecution displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between the two organisations (and the level of bureaucracy involved).

    1. Adam

      I agree that there may not necessarily be a conspiracy between copfs and police wildlife crime structure but it is certainly in both organisations interests to suppress the facts.
      Both organisations are under funded and under resourced.

      The inability to adequately deal with such an emotive and high profile issue results in crimes being poorly investigated and lack or poorly presecuted cases.

      Police and COPFS track record clearly shows this.

      As a result both organisations are overtly defensive and display little transparency in order to hide mistakes or failurings.

      I can appreciate the in some cases there could be operational reasons that could prevent information being made public however this mantra is used all to often to prevent media interest or to prevent failings being uncovered.

      Something is very clearly not right?

  11. Speaking to a journalist friend last night on a completely unrelated matter, she said that there has been a complete change in culture regarding talking to the media on an official basis in her area since Police Scotland came in – but she thought it was an issue relating to FOI, HRA and Leveson, not just a PS one. She referred me to this when I said I’d heard that in other areas:


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