Police Scotland intend to withhold raptor persecution info for 3 years

police-scotland-logoA couple of weeks ago we blogged about Police Scotland withholding information about raptor persecution crimes from the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report (here). Their approach was in sharp contrast to every other UK police force that had provided data for this report.

This wasn’t the first time we’d noticed a distinct lack of transparency from Police Scotland, and indeed we remarked that it was becoming something of a speciality of theirs, as they’d also withheld raptor persecution data from the ‘official’ PAW Scotland 2015 raptor persecution report (see here) and also from the Scottish Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here, here and here).

One of our blog readers contacted Police Scotland to ask why information about raptor persecution crimes (a national UK police priority) was being withheld from the public.

Here’s Police Scotland’s response:

Primarily, the Police Scotland concern is about specialist knowledge becoming public knowledge in these cases. Police Scotland actually withholds the data from publication in relatively few cases and only after consideration against the agreed investigative strategy for a particular case. If Police Scotland is to make an appeal for information about a bird of prey killing and has chosen not to identify the substance as part of the strategy (or even identify that poisoning was the cause of death) this would be undermined by the identification of the chemical used in a public document. It would not take too much initiative to put the two together and that specialist knowledge tool is lost. A similar argument is equally as legitimate where other modus operandi (MO) are used in this form of raptor persecution.

On occasions, the decision is made not to make an investigation public at all for a variety of reasons (time of year, other ongoing investigations etc.). Publication of pesticide data or MO by HSE, RSPB or whoever else would ensure that Police Scotland loses control over this tool.

Differences in the legal system in Scotland is also another issue. The time bar for bringing wildlife crimes to court in Scotland is (in most cases) three years from the date of the offence. Police Scotland therefore expect to be able to legitimately withhold information relating to cases for that time period. This argument was supported by a specialist prosecutor from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit who also thought that this was particularly relevant in Scotland because we still have a requirement for corroboration.

Police Scotland cannot speak for the approach taken by forces in England and Wales but our commitment to wildlife crime ensures that we must ensure that we use every tool available and therefore on occasions this will include withholding information about a crime.


Police Scotland’s justification for withholding information about raptor persecution crimes is technically legitimate. They have the right to withhold information when they think it is the most appropriate and/or effective approach to take.

However, just because we accept that this is a technically legitimate course of action for Police Scotland to take, it doesn’t mean that we agree with it. On the contrary, their approach raises some very serious concerns.

The first, and most important, concern is the issue of public safety. Public safety is the underlying objective of any police force, and Police Scotland even have it incorporated in to their logo. How on earth is withholding information about the use of a dangerous (potentially fatal) poison in a given area ‘keeping people safe’?

What happens if a member of the public visits that area with a child or a pet dog, ignorant to the fact that poisoned baits have been discovered there, and they stumble across the poisoned bait and, god forbid, the child (or adult) touches it, or the dog eats it, and dies as a result? These poisons have been banned for a reason – they are so highly toxic that even absorption through the skin (via touch) can be enough to cause death. Many pet dogs have succumbed in this way and it is only a matter of time before it happens to a human.

north-york-police-poisoning-poster-may-2015At the very least, the very, very least, Police Scotland should be screaming about the use of illegal poison, every single time they encounter it. It should be in the papers, on the radio, on the TV, all over social media, and warning posters should be prominently displayed in the local area (just as North Yorkshire Police are doing – see here). What Police Scotland absolutely should NOT be doing is hiding this information from the public for three years. What on earth are they thinking?

What’s more important to Police Scotland – protecting the public from a devastating consequence or clinging to a false hope that somebody might come forward with corroborating information that might lead to an arrest? It’s a bit of a no brainer, isn’t it?

And ‘clinging to a false hope’ is a deliberately chosen expression. How many times, in the last, say, 10 years, following a raptor poisoning crime, has anyone ever come forward with corroborating evidence that has enabled a prosecution? If you read RSPB Scotland’s recent written evidence to the ECCLR Committee (here), you’ll find this statement:

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‘.

Other concerns about the withholding of persecution crime data have been covered on this blog many times before. This lack of transparency not only undermines the public’s confidence in officially-cited (by Government) raptor persecution trends, but it also creates the false impression that raptor persecution is no longer an issue of concern. If the public isn’t reading about it, they’ll assume it’s not happening. Naturally, those with a vested interest in hiding the extent of raptor persecution crime will be all over this, using it in propaganda campaigns to indicate that the game shooting industry has finally cleaned up its act.

And of course, if raptor persecution crimes are not in the public domain, it makes it virtually impossible for people like us to track and assess the performance of Police Scotland and also that of the Crown Office in dealing with these offences. No public awareness = no public scrutiny.

How very convenient.

Police Scotland should be hung out to dry about this. Not only are they putting public safety at risk, but they are also demolishing public confidence in their ability to effectively tackle wildlife crime. We’ll be contacting several MSPs to follow up on this issue and we encourage you to contact your own MSP to make your concerns clear.

30 thoughts on “Police Scotland intend to withhold raptor persecution info for 3 years”

      1. As with so many authoritative decisions the name of the author or subscriber is never revealed.
        Should not the Chief of Police,his underlings or staff officers who composed the excuse and story be publicly held to explain by being named and their interests exposed.
        Failing which it is reasonable to presume to corruption and brown envelopes.

  1. The only conclusion I can make from Police Scotland withholding such information is collusion with the criminals.
    Don’t mention the crimes and it will just go away. “Out of sight, out of mind” was the old phrase.

    How wrong they are. We will not let them or their friends get away with these hideous killing games.


  2. Blatant contempt for the public and pretty much an admission they intend to orchestrate cover ups, that is my take on this.

  3. The first reaction is one of depression at the police attitude and performance. The second one, and more lasting, is a determination to carry on the fight and eventually get our politicians to act. Only then do I think we will see a change in the attitude and performance of the police.

  4. If I were an owner of a shooting estate who is proud of my record of ensuring that raptors (and all other animals) on my estate are never illegally killed – and don’t they all like to claim that? – I would want the rogue owners identified. If my neighbour is allowed to break the law anonymously suspicion automatically falls on all of us. So why isn’t the Moorland Association putting pressure on the police to name and shame? Sadly, I think I know the answer.

  5. Was Police Scotland’s response written by the late Stanley Unwin? What a load of meaningless gobbledygook. No wonder Scottish court cases take so long to take place! Shame on them – they are quite obviously not on our side.

      1. Talk of “sides” was the bane of my existence as an investigator – there are only two sides with raptor persecution, the criminals and the rest of us…which means we are on the same side as the Police, if as they say they are impartial and committed to fighting all crime. I repeatedly had to remind the police of this when they described the RSPB and the shooting lobby as being two sides, without reference to the Police and the law abiding public. This is not a private war.

        1. This is not a private war.

          No. It oughtn’t to be, but it is. And the Police have picked a side and it isn’t with us but the shooters. Refusing to see it as a culture war plays into their hands, because the shooting and farming lobby do see it as a culture war and fight it as such. That is why we keep ending up in situations like this. It needs to be fought accordingly. The police are the enemy right now, and we need to plan tactics that cut them out of the loop until they can be forced into line.

  6. sadly the police in Scotland and here in England too support the landowners, the Hunts , the Shoots. end of. wqe just about might as well not have any Police at all. look at Rotherham for example. the Police statement was so long that they wanted to bore us into submission.

  7. It’s fairly obvious by now that there’s deliberate collusion by withholding information and data occurring at all levels within police Scotland where wildlife crime is concerned, it serves no real purpose to sit on information unless they intend using it to instigate a prosecution. Judging by the number of successful wildlife persecution prosecutions they’ve brought to court over the last few years I would say it makes no difference at all whether they hold onto information or not because they are simply not using it to any obvious advantage. The only possible reason Police Scotland could have for withholding data and information that they don’t intend to use in court is to protect the interests of certain shooting estates and their owners, I can’t for the life of me think of any other logical reason why they would not release it.

  8. ” Mi Lud The deceased was killed with a sawn – off xxxxxxx .
    I am unable to describe the weapon fully since this might predudice the ability of the police to deal with such crimes. ”
    Farcical !

    Keep up the pressure !

  9. what happened to truth, why can you trust the police when they pick and choose.That is not what I believe the police should be in a position to do.This is not good enough. disillusioned, why yes, no surprise though.

  10. I think we need to remove these people from the chain of investigation and get in professionals who actually intend to do their job properly

  11. I suppose part of the way to combat this is that if anyone finds something suspicious regarding raptor crime, make sure you tweet it and tag in as many people as possible before calling the cops. Same if you overhear in the pub or anything else about a raptor crime, tweet it for all to read. And of course we should hope for leaks too. Tag it with #raptorpersecution. and #countryfile or #springwatch too.

  12. There is a very worrying trend appearing here.
    Estate names are no longer made public and now the crimes themselves are to be suppressed for 3 years. This is against a backdrop of failing to provide accurate statistics.

    Why should police Scotland choose to treat wildlife crime so differently to any other crime.

    Where is the transparency.

    A simple post code check in England and Wales provides data of crimes in that area

    Answer is simple report crime to RSPB and SSPCA, police clearly have an agenda in favour of protecting sporting estates. Note police Scotland are quick to make public police successes in relation to hare coursing and fish poaching….

  13. ‘Public safety is the underlying objective of any police force’

    I hope you don’t mind me saying, but that is a rather naive view. The fundamental purpose of any police force is to uphold and protect the existing economic, social and political structures of their society. Everything else is secondary.

    1. Dave……….There has been lots of examples where police have failed to protect the public, Hillsburgh being one of the most current.

      Police can and do get it wrong. Exactly whose interests are being protected when the police deliberately fail to make public wildlife crime.
      Poisons and traps pose a very real threat to the public who are entitled to be made aware

      Why is wildlife crime being treated differently from any other crime.

      The police need to publicise these crimes
      1. For public safety
      2 To appeal for witnesses
      3. To act as a deterrent to offenders (particularly shooting estates with horrendous histories in wildlife crime)
      4. The public are entitled to be made aware of crime statistics.

  14. I have a degree of sympathy with the Police. I don’t think this is a deliberate attempt at collusion or anything else. There is an instinctive reaction to keep details of an investigation secret, including locus.

    1. Squirrel

      Why would you or anyone else feel sympathy for the police on this issue.

      They clearly are and have been been for many decades under performing in this area and are now now trying to keep the public in the dark by failing to provide ths information.

      I appreciate that a certain amount of specialist knowledge has to be withheld. This is no different to any other crimeband as such is not a reason to name locations and the nature of the crime in broad terms.
      In the past estates were named as a matter of routine until certain police officers with a clear conflict of interest , changed this. The only persons who benefit from this arrangement are those commiting wildlife crimes.

      It is only correct that the police Scotland deal with wildlife crime with accountablity, fairness and transparency.

      Just the same as any other crime, domestic violence, drugs, housebreaking etc.

      Collusion or neglegence the outcome is the same for wildlife.

      Scotland’s public are right to demand that the police enforce the law to protect its natural history.

      I’m am not interested in misguided sympathy, excuses or lies to justify what is clear to everyone…………a failure!

    2. I agree ….. whilst they are not making it easy to report wildlife crime – they are between a rock and a hard place …… Give out too much information and it may harm the investigation – give out too little and safety issues are raised for the public. They are in a cleft stick and are accused of all manner of things. I’ve had exactly this argument online with someone who would’ve been quite happy to jump into any investigation with both feet, ignoring the consequences such actions may incur.

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