Police Scotland under fire for withholding info on raptor poisonings

pjLast week we blogged about Police Scotland’s intention to withhold information about raptor persecution crimes for up to three years from the time the offence was committed, as part of their ‘investigative strategy’. We weren’t impressed (see here).

Unsurprisingly, we weren’t alone. The following article was published in the Press & Journal yesterday:

Fears people could come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

Fears have been raised that youngsters and animals could be harmed by Police Scotland policies surrounding their investigation of bird of prey poisonings.

North-east MSP, Lewis Macdonald, has written to Chief Constable Philip Gormley, highlighting concerns that people enjoying a walk in Scotland’s hills could accidentally come into contact with toxic substances used to kill raptors illegally.

In his letter, Mr Macdonald highlighted that police forces in England make the public aware of the details of such cases.

He also argued some forces, south of the border, erect signs to let the public know poison is suspected to have been used in certain areas.

However, officers in Scotland can choose not to take such measures, due to fears it could compromise investigations into the crimes.

Mr Macdonald said: “Families who enjoy our beautiful countryside in the north-east might be alarmed to learn that Police Scotland is not giving them the full picture about where poison has been used illegally to kill birds of prey.

The simple signs used by other forces in England might be enough to make the public aware of the potential danger without interfering with the investigation.

Of course, Police Scotland officers have a duty to do whatever they can to identify and catch those responsible for these crimes, and they may well believe that giving the public too much information about these incidents would hinder their investigation.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, wildlife crime lead, said: “Police Scotland balances public safety against any investigative strategy very carefully, and withholds information in only a very few cases.

It does so where the release of such information could potentially compromise an ongoing investigation.

Due to the differences between Scots law and other jurisdictions in the UK necessitating the need for corroboration, earlier release of information could compromise ongoing cases.

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


Well done, Lewis Macdonald MSP. We don’t know whether he reads this blog directly or whether one of his constituents sent him a link. No matter, he has responded in the best way possible and we thank him for that.

Just a quick word about DCS Scott’s comment on withholding information: “Police Scotland withholds information in only a very few cases“. Er, we beg to differ.

In the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report, Police Scotland deliberately withheld the name of the poison used in every single poisoning crime except one. That’s nine cases with withheld information. That’s nine cases in one calendar year. That’s quite a lot of poisoning offences with withheld information, not “a very few cases” as DCS Scott claims. And in four of those cases, Police Scotland has even withheld information about the month the offence was committed, the affected species, and the county where the offence took place. Because apparently, telling the public which month a poisoning offence took place will totally compromise the police investigation.


By the way, we’re still waiting to read DCS Scott’s written explanation to the ECCLR Committee about why six confirmed raptor persecution crimes were excluded from the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report (see here). Were these crimes also deliberately excluded or was this just incompetence rather than strategy? It’s getting hard to differentiate.

17 thoughts on “Police Scotland under fire for withholding info on raptor poisonings”

  1. What you expect from the police they are as bad as any other orginisation and should be watched closely, they also close ranks very swiftly, that said they do not have an easy job.

  2. Support SSPCA gaining additional powers and this will help the whole issue of wildlife crime.

    Police are making things worse.

  3. The SSPCA should be investigating raptor persecution, not Police Scotland. Police Scotland are there to protect the status quo, i.e. the needs of the nasty brigade…

  4. one may say they don’t have an easy job but the main one is to enforce the laws which I don’t see that they always do. There seems to be a big conflict of interests that goes on or, to use another word, corruption? Why? Thats’ what I’d love to kinow more about. Who or what is causing this?

  5. I have to say that I do understand the police’s point about corroboration. In Scot’s law more than one piece of evidence is required to convict a person of a crime. That may be why it is so difficult to bring cases to court. It is not easy to get more than one witness or piece of evidence of crime in the wide open countryside where few people (if any at night) are around to witness any crime and there are endless places evidence could be hidden. Not so long ago there were huge debates about the corroboration required in rape crimes where it is often one person’s word against another. It was not easy to do away with corroboration for either of the people involved. One misspoken piece of knowledge which is not in the public domain could be all it takes to corroborate someones statement and bring a successful prosecution.

    1. The problem is that this is a quagmire of the police’s own making. They say it isn’t corruption and cronyism behind this three years of hiding, but the Scottish Police have a massive history of both of those. If it isn’t tugging the forelock to the laird and helping out the water bailiff then it was sectarianism and the damn freemasons, not to mention smacking the Faslane protestors around bit, and of course occasionally jumping in bed with the London mobs as well as assorted backhanders and bungs (although that one was more a Glasgow thing), you name it they’ve been knee deep in it at some point. I want to believe they’ve genuinely sorted it out and are all genuinely trying to solve wildlife crime now, I want to believe, but history is against them on this. The police in Scotland have a huge hole, dug well and deep by their predecessors, to climb out of before they can make any claim to having the public trust. Until they get out of that hole it behooves them to be as open as humanly possible. And they are nowhere meeting that standard, so I want to believe but history and their own behaviour is against them.

    2. Then surely it would benefit the police if they publicised these crimes in a timely manner. Withholding vital information such as the type of poison, the estate name, and even the county in which the crime took place, means it will be near impossible to solve these crimes.

      If only the police would reveal the relevant information, then those that might hold information would be able to come forward, but all too often Police Scotland would rather hinder the investigations process. One would have to question why they so frequently follow this most ineffectual method.

  6. Makes you wonder who the real wildlife persecution criminals are, we know the gamekeepers on most of the shooting estates are responsible for the actual killing of birds of prey, but, and it’s a big but, the police are probably equally or even more responsible for the continuing unabated persecution by not making a concerted effort to put a stop to it. The fact that they show almost total disregard for raptor persecution would make you think they actually condone it, there’s no doubt that they must be receiving instructions from persons in high places to ignore raptor persecution on the grouse shooting estates, what other explanation can there be for them getting away with it for so long.

    1. Nirofo,

      It’s a bit of a stretch to suggest Police Scotland condones raptor persecution. Fair enough to argue they don’t appear to take it very seriously all the time (with some notable exceptions) but whether this is an actual strategy or just incompetence, or something else (lack of resources definitely plays a part in some cases as does the difficulty of securing sufficient evidence to charge) is open to debate.

      Whatever the cause, their ineffectiveness at tackling raptor persecution is clear to see. Something has to change, and fast.

      1. Having been witness to their efforts in curtailing raptor persecution for more than 50 years as a raptor worker in the field, I’m afraid I cannot be as forgiving or understanding as Raptor Persecution UK . some of the obvious violations I’ve seen the keepers and estates get away with scot free would make your hair stand on end at the shear uncaring brutality of it, you wonder just who is pulling their strings by allowing this wanton persecution to continue unabated for so long and barely a meaningful prosecution in sight. in all this time.

        1. Those at the top of the police dont care a rats ass about raptor persecution but they do care about getting phone calls from “influential members of the rural community” when a high profile shooting estate is involved. I used to tell policemen when they were congratulating themselves on catching a gamekeeper with poison or dead raptors..dont get carried away…youll be getting a “funny” phone call from one of your superiors shortly and it wont be to congratulate you..and sure enough!……[to be fair that didnt happen all the time, only with certain Forces..I wonder if its changed now we have one Force?]

  7. I thought the police’s top priority was to save lives? Surpressing the whereabouts of poisons seems at odds with that!

  8. Well if the police are concealing the information to help the criminals it has clearly backfired now, The Scottish press are picking this up. People are not impressed that if poisons are discovered that it will not be made public. The police statement that only a few crimes are being withheld will not impress anyone, as it is clearly not true, as this site has ably demonstrated.

  9. The police argument seems to be that releasing any information would deny them the opportunity of obtaining a conviction based on a special knowledge, or self corroborating, confession.

    On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable position to take.

    But in reality I wonder what the chances are of anyone committing these crimes making any form of admission at all, never mind a self corroborating one.

    Maybe a FOI request to COPFOS would ascertain what percentage of convictions generally, and specifically those falling within the ambit of wildlife crime, relied on, or involved, a special knowledge confession.

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