We’ve often blogged about the so-called Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) and how little faith we have in its effectiveness for tackling illegal raptor persecution.
One of our biggest criticisms has always been the involvement of some representative groups from the game-shooting industry, who show little sign of actual partnership-working but instead use their PAW membership as a useful PR exercise, masquerading as genuine conservation partners but constantly undermining the efforts of others by use of obstruction, obsfuscation and outright denial that there’s even a problem to be addressed.
It’s pretty shocking then, to find out that the game-shooting industry has not been alone in faking a commitment to genuine partnership-working.
It turns out that Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter, the then head of the police National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) (from Feb 2012 to July 2014), was running what appears to have been a nasty little campaign during his tenure, aimed directly at discrediting the work of the RSPB’s Investigations Team and marginalising their assistance with raptor persecution investigations. Incredibly, this disgraceful ‘partnership-working’ behaviour began immediately after the RSPB had helped secure emergency funding to keep the NWCU running for another year!
Talk about backstabbing!
This has all been revealed in an FoI disclosure that was published earlier this week. The disclosure reveals a long string of toxic email correspondence from Nevin Hunter to various NWCU staff, to police forces across the country, and to various staff members at Natural England and DEFRA, amongst others.
This dossier can be read here: NWCU correspondence on RSPB Investigations_2013_2014
It reads as an unprofessional, personal vendetta carried out by a senior police officer who appears to have been using scarce public money (that was supposed to be used to fight wildlife crime) to instead fund a grand tour of the UK, dripping poison in to the ears of junior-ranking police officers and encouraging them to bad mouth the RSPB. It’s not a great look, Nevin.
The FoI request is believed to have been submitted by someone with a previous criminal conviction for raptor persecution offences and who has since held a a very public, unhealthy and obsessional grudge against the RSPB’s Investigations Team, undoubtedly because their work was instrumental in securing his conviction.
The FoI request read as follows:
Please supply all the information held by the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and the police in relation to problems with the RSPB (including notes, statements and emails to and from Nevin Hunter to the RSPB and the police, especially in regards to not using the RSPB on police raids and not allowing the RSPB to take over criminal cases as has occurred in the past.
I am particularly interested in relation to the directions given to various organisations and people like wildlife liaison officers not to use the RSPB given by Nevin Hunter between 20th February 2012 – 31 July 2014 and any subsequent directions (including notes, statements and emails to and from Nevin Hunter to the RSPB).
It’s an unusually specific FoI request, isn’t it? It’s almost as if someone tipped off the applicant that this information would be available.
Anyway, never one to miss an opportunity to slur the RSPB and deflect attention away from grouse moor mismanagement and the associated wildlife crimes, the grouse-shooting industry’s mouthpiece group You Forgot the Birds has jumped all over this and we’re expecting them to have received coverage in today’s media with the following press release:
FOI REVEALS POLICE AT WAR WITH RSPB OVER INVESTIGATIONS
An FOI response released this week has revealed an extraordinary power struggle between the police and the RSPB over who controls investigations into wildlife crime.
In it senior police officers and government officials accused the RSPB of failing to report crimes, committing trespass and abusing the police national computer.
The police expressed concern that they had been seen as “being in the pocket of the RSPB” (p7) with wildlife crime cases “often ‘led’ by” the RSPB (p43). The charity was doing its own “surveillance,” was “trespassing”, would “covertly seize evidence” and “then expect to be part of enforcement activity [including] warrants, searches, interviews and file preparation.” (p27)
Police Scotland wrote that the RSPB’s “time is coming up here as well – they just haven’t woken up to it yet! The RSPB will kick and scream.” (p19).
Police Scotland warned that the RSPB’s threat to “withhold raptor persecution incidents will only result in severe criticism and credibility issues; the RSPB becoming the biggest obstruction in raptor persecution investigation.” (p20)
Defra said that “when the conduct of an NGO begins to prejudice the integrity of investigations action needs to be taken…there are people within the RSPB …holding back important info for what appears to be no other reason than to get a media splash… And who loses out? Every time it’s the birds.” (p2)
A series of NWCU concerns included that the RSPB had “failed to report the poisoning of a marsh harrier until 6 months after the event and then only by press release… This frustrated the investigation” (p5)
A particular concern was the RSPB’s use of the police national computer. Here the RSPB used its relationship with the Norfolk Constabulary to conduct a PNC search regarding alleged crime in Cumbria. The FOI shows that the Norfolk police could not justify the RSPB’s use of the police database.
The NWCU commented: “I’m pretty sure that they have ‘tricked’ Norfolk into getting this PNC data. If this is so then RSPB could well have breached the DPA.” (p35) A later email said “I am quite frankly appalled that in the world of wildlife policing the Police are handing over computers/computer downloads, to a Charity, who then use a third party to look for evidence. I would be suing the Chief Constable.” (p37)
Commenting on the disclosures the campaign group You Forgot The Birds said that the RSPB was abusing the justice system. “This power hungry charity has been usurping the role of the police and prosecutors. The RSPB’s arrogance, massive income and lack of accountability is a dangerous cocktail which politicians should address,” said YFTB’s director, Ian Gregory.
Many of the accusations made by Nevin and his colleagues, and cherry-picked by YFTB to cause maximum repuational damage to the RSPB, are baseless, misrepresentative and just plain bizarre.
Why on earth would the RSPB allegedly “threaten to withhold raptor persecution incidents” from the Police? The RSPB is not a reporting agency so couldn’t sidestep police involvement even if it wanted to, so what could possibly be its motivation for making this alleged statement?
Some of the accusations actually reveal an appalling lack of communication between the police. For example, the so-called ‘tricking’ of the police by the RSPB to access the Police National Computer. There was no ‘trickery’ involved – the RSPB had a signed-off protocol with Norfolk Constabulary of which Nevin was completely ignorant!
The RSPB has responded to the release of the FoI with the following statement:
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director said: “Our investigations team does fantastic work to help tackle wildlife crime. Their commitment and dedication is exceptional and I am proud of the work they do.
We have numerous concerns about these internal police conversations from four years ago and it is clear that the framing of the question used to obtain these emails is designed to drive a wedge between the RSPB and the Police’s Wildlife Crime Unit and our current strong relationship. Anyone looking at the question will see that it is attempting to take attention away from our important joint work in stopping the illegal killing of the UK’s birds.
Stopping wildlife crime is one of the foundations upon which the RSPB is built. I believe that all those genuinely motivated to end this in the UK benefit from the proven experience of our Investigations team and so I urge everyone to continue to work together to do what really matters – end the illegal killing of birds of prey.
The RSPB has a long track record in assisting the statutory agencies and the police, so we were deeply disappointed to find out that in 2013 and 2014 the then head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit was being so critical behind our backs, circulating false and misleading comments. These emails were sent at a time when we had been campaigning to secure the long term future of the NWCU.
I am pleased that we currently have a good working relationship both with police forces across the UK and the NWCU, and I have complete confidence the systems and processes which underpin our investigations“.
It’s clear that YFTB is trying to cause as much damage as possible to the RSPB’s reputation – that’s been the main objective ever since the grouse-shooting industry established this fake news outfit a couple of years ago.
However, in our opinion, it’s not the RSPB that comes out of this with the most damaged reputation, its the NWCU. At a time when Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter was officially bigging up partnership-working with the RSPB and other PAW organisations (e.g. see here, here), it looks like behind closed doors he was doing his best to destroy it.
The question remains, why? Why, if Nevin was charged with progressing the UK Raptor Persecution Wildlife Crime Priority, with no real track record in this specialised area, was he trying to actively exclude the one agency with a proven track record of working with police to tackle this area of crime?
The other big question is, what happens now? Thankfully Nevin has long gone, and good riddance to him. But how much damage has been caused to this partnership? The new head of the NWCU, Chief Inspector Louise Hubble, must be mortified. This isn’t her mess but she’s inherited it and now has to deal with it.