Derbyshire Police refuse to publicise report of two shot buzzards on pheasant estate

The blog I wrote a couple of days ago (here) about Police Scotland’s refusal to publicise the discovery of a shot peregrine found on a grouse moor in the notorious raptor persecution area of Strathbraan drew a lot of criticism of wildlife crime policing.

Some of that criticism was fair, in my opinion, but some of it wasn’t. The main point to be made, as has been discussed many times on this blog, is that not all police forces are the same. There are some brilliant, pro-active and creative police forces in the UK, spearheaded by diligent, hard-working officers who feel the same frustration as we all do when cases cannot proceed to court, and not for lack of trying. We’ve seen evidence of these officers’ work in recent months, including at least eight search warrants executed across the country in relation to suspected raptor persecution offences:

On 18th January 2021 there was a raid in Suffolk (here), on 15th March there was a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March a raid in Devon (see here), on 21st April a raid in Teesdale (here), on 2nd August a raid in Shropshire (here), on 12th August a raid in Herefordshire (here) and on 14th September a raid in Norfolk (here).

Yesterday evening we saw another example (here), this time from Police Scotland, resulting in an individual being charged for an alleged offence that took place last week! Whatever the outcome of this case, Police Scotland’s response cannot be faulted and those officers involved should be commended.

It’s my view that slagging off the police in general, accusing them all of being inept, corrupt, members of the Masons etc, is a lazy and inaccurate response to wider failures within the criminal justice system. I get why people do it – the criminal justice system is hopelessly underfunded and some of the legislation is in dire need of updating to close some gaping loopholes – and the public rightly feels frustrated every time another raptor persecution crime goes unpunished, again and again and again, but that still doesn’t justify some of the criticism aimed at the police in general.

However, I think it’s also fair to criticise police forces and officers when it is obvious that investigative procedures are not up to standard. That was the point of the blog post about Police Scotland’s response to the shot peregrine in Strathbraan and it’s also the focus of today’s blog, which looks at Derbyshire Constabulary’s appalling response to a report of the shooting of two buzzards, witnessed by a member of the public on a pheasant-shooting estate in Derbyshire during last year’s first lockdown (April 2020).

To set the scene, this is a large, private estate in the lowlands, heavily wooded and with some lakes and open parkland. Approximately 20,000 pheasants are released for commercial shooting each year. Some of the estate is closed off to the public but other parts are criss-crossed by public footpaths and bridleways, making this a popular location for visitors.

On 1st April 2020, a visiting member of the public was watching two buzzards circling above a wood when he heard a shot and witnessed the buzzards falling. The incident was reported to Derbyshire Police as a suspected raptor persecution crime. The police quickly attended the scene but, I’m told, did not conduct a search of the wood but did speak to the gamekeeper and a number of other estate residents.

With no corpses found and no other witnesses, the next most obvious move would be for the police to issue an appeal for information. But Derbyshire Constabulary had other ideas.

The following is an email sent by a member of the police wildlife crime team to somebody who was asking whether an appeal for information might be forthcoming, given that raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority. The police response is astonishing:

This is such a jaw-dropping response I don’t really know where to begin!

The police officer seems to think that if the estate residents didn’t see anything then there was ‘zero chance‘ of further evidence coming to light. Er….what about other visitors? The country was in lock-down at the time but the estate is located in a village where local residents may well have been taking their daily allowance of exercise and who may have witnessed something of relevance.

The police officer also seems to think that issuing an appeal for information would mean accusing the gamekeeper of shooting the buzzards. That’s not the case at all! Just a statement of the facts was all that was needed – without accusing anybody. Police forces do this all the time. And surely, the gamekeeper and the estate owner would welcome an appeal for information if it was possible that someone without authority was wandering around the estate discharging a firearm?! Fear of upsetting the gamekeeper/estate owner ‘when we may need the cooperation of the estate for future things‘ is not a valid reason for not progressing this investigation.

I think the most worrying aspect of the police response is this:

I think we all know that it would inevitably lead to repeated discussions which we’d have to become part of if it was our publication about gamekeeping practices in general. We’ve found that, for our team’s purposes, propaganda is of no value to us and is something we try to avoid‘.

Again, an appeal for information would not need to include any mention of gamekeeping practices. It would just be a statement of facts – that a member of the public reported what he believed to be the shooting of two buzzards at this location, at xx:xx hours on 1st April 2020, if anyone has any information that might help please contact the police on Tel 101 and quote incident ref number xxxxxxx.

How does Derbyshire Constabulary expect to maintain the public’s confidence to report suspected wildlife crime when reports are likely to be viewed as ‘propaganda’ by the police?

This isn’t the first time that Derbyshire Constabulary has faced criticism for the way it deals with reported raptor persecution crimes.

In January 2020, the RSPB issued a press statement about an illegally poisoned buzzard, found next to a poisoned bait, in the Peak District National Park. This crime had been uncovered the year before, in April 2019, but Derbyshire Constabulary had chosen not to say anything about it, nor to warn the public about the danger of poisoned baits being laid out in the countryside, let alone in a National Park (see here).

In response to that press release and the subsequent criticism of the police, Derbyshire Constabulary issued a remarkable statement on Facebook claiming that the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the poisoned buzzard, lying next to the poisoned bait, were ‘inconclusive’ as to whether the buzzard had been deliberately poisoned (yes, really – see here).

More criticism followed, quite rightly in my opinion, and shortly afterwards Derbyshire Constabulary posted another statement on Facebook, where they discussed the size of the geographic area they had to cover, their high workload, the lack of resources available to them and the small size of the team. They did though, commit to doing better (see here).

Just six weeks later this reported shooting of two buzzards landed on their desks.

As I said at the top of this blog, I have no interest in a general slagging off of the police. And particularly of Derbyshire Constabulary – a few years ago an elderly member of my family, suffering from advanced dementia, was prone to wandering off in a confused and distressed state, often for hours on end. Time and again, officers from Derbyshire Constabulary went looking for him and brought him home safely. I will always be grateful for the care and diligence shown by those officers, who went above and beyond my family’s expectations. Their efforts were exemplary and hugely appreciated.

My point is, again, that bringing the perpetrators of wildlife crime to justice, and particularly those guilty of raptor persecution, is difficult enough without some police officers seemingly doing their best to obstruct investigations. Blogs like this one make for uncomfortable reading but it’s clear that there needs to be a root and branch overhaul of procedures, with examples of best practice being highlighted and encouraged, at a national level. This is a role the so-far useless Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) can play in England & Wales, and by the so-far useless PAW Raptor Group can play in Scotland, supported by the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

There are some seriously good officers dealing with wildlife crime but they need to be seen as the rule, not the exception.

23 thoughts on “Derbyshire Police refuse to publicise report of two shot buzzards on pheasant estate”

  1. “I’ll look up a couple of erstwhile cops who are involved in the shoot”

    Doesn’t that just inspire a heap of confidence.

    1. Let’s get this straight. The police are unwilling to investigate an alleged crime on a sporting estate, that police officers are know to patronise!

      Can anybody come up with a word to describe this behaviour?

  2. You haven’t mentioned the last sentence and the mention of “a couple of erstwhile cops who are involved in the shoot”. Is this two serving officers or two former officers? It sounds suspiciously like they’re trying to sweep things under the carpet through the old boys’ network, nudge nudge wink wink, rather than actually investigate properly. Or is it a case of not wanting to embarrass these “erstwhile cops”? All in all this is a disappointing response to a pretty blatant crime by someone

  3. “a couple of erstwhile cops involved in the shoot”
    – you have to ask if this is a reflection of the culture of policing, specifically involvement in shoots by serving or former officers. How can the public be satisfied police actions here are unbiased? Derbyshire constabulary haven’t learned from previous failings with raptor crimes and they didn’t learn from the notorious lockdown drone footage on Curbar Edge mentioned here. Of course at the start of the next lockdown they arrested 2 women carrying cups of coffee walking 5 miles from home and that made the national news before an embarrassing climbdown by Derbyshire yet again.

  4. I fully take your point about not all police officers being lazy/corrupt/inept/masons Ruth, but this stinks to high Hell. I mean, kid glove treatment for the gamekeeper (who surely has to be a suspect, as who else is wandering about the estate during lockdown with a firearm?) and then seeking chummy chats with ex-coppers involved in the shoot, WTF? If that were a response to a query I’d made I’d be contacting the PCC.

  5. I attended an event in Moffat last night consisting of 3 presenters hosted by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project. Justin Grant and Roy Dennis were on first and last with Gavin Ross, newish Police Scotland rep on the NCWU halfway through. His presentation was concise and very structured as you might expect. He said all the right things as you would expect but it was as if he was presenting “safe content” to an audience of internal “Seniors”. It was fairly clear that quite a bit of their time is taken up with routine CITES checks. He made a plea for people to report sightings or suspicions through 999 or 101, as appropriate, with the warning that you may need to push hard to get a response you’re happy with (!)

  6. Actually I can understand a certain amount of foot-dragging in this case – one witness is the only evidence available. The circumstances are fairly clear but there’s nothing that would stand up in a court of law. However…

    If there was ever an example of why licencing or various liability was a complete waste of time then this is it. The criminal justice system is utterly unable to deal with this problem and expecting police forces to solve it is asking a little too much of the system.

    So, time to change the system. Make the estates and their clients pay the full cost of their little indulgences. Start totting up the bill for air pollution, carbon emissions, flooding, water contamination, etc. etc. Remove all subsidies and apply proper business rates. Give gamekeepers a fair deal over housing and pensions.

    After all the rules that everybody else has to live by are fairly applied we’ll see how much of a shooting industry is left.

  7. I can, and do, discriminate between helpful or friendly police and the “others.” I am on good terms with some and have members of my family who are serving police officers. However, in areas where questionable relationships exist between large, extremely wealthy landowners who have had a presence in the parish for many generations and civil service heirarchies that are charged with serving the public it is difficult not to believe that these relationships affect the level of service and the neutrality of the officers and their approach to certain criminal activities.
    A clear example of this, in my opinion, are the treatment the fox Sabs receive and some of the amazing decisions being made. in regards to all wildlife crimes associated with shooting. In the wildlife crimes not associated with wealth the apprehension of the criminals is usually swift and convictions frequent.
    Once guidelines from heirarchies alter then the efficiency of the police appears to develop quite quickly i nthose areas as the problem lies not with the men and women on the ground, but with the level of employees who issue guidelines and advice i nregards to certai ncrimes — as the recent cases in England have shown. I doubt Scotland is any different but in a less visible manner.
    On June 30th 2020 a recently skinned deer’s head with a full set of velvet antlers was found hung from between branches next to a pheasant shoot on Forestry Commission land ( out of season for shooting red deer.) The syndicate whose pheasant shoot it was is a retired policeman. Individuals were contacted and the Forestry Commission gamekeeper caught the offender about to exit or enter the wood. He was an unemployed gamekeeper and part of the shoot.
    The upshot was no prosecutions but a “warning” issued and the pheasant syndicate lost their permission to shoot.
    But that was then and this is now.
    The same syndicate is now allowed to shoot on the same FC ground as previous, unemployed Gamekeeper excepted, but they are not allowed to erect pens. The unemployed gamekeeper retained his firearms licence and though he cannot shoot on FS land he regularly shoots “rabbits” on the surrounding farmland, if he is to be believed.
    Members of the syndicate now have a new piece of woodland, not owned by the FS, and are happily banging away at both so they seems to have gained from the situation and lost very, very little.
    Situations like these are happening all over Scotland but I do not put the blame on the policemen on the ground, many who try as best they can — but not all — rogues exist too in that department. My point is that until the unseen heirarchies are held to account publicly then nothing will change in the long term which are concealed by short term mildly punitive measures which demand no appearance in court — which are often quickly reversed onec the focus changes.

  8. The Derbyshire police officers involved in that investigation (and I use the term lightly!) are either cognitively challenged or in league with land owners and gamekeepers. I quite agree that some police officers are amazing. However, they all wear the same uniform and presumably none of them would openly challenge the content of that email.
    So as a lay person I have no idea which officers have integrity and which don’t.

  9. This does not make good reading.
    I wonder if the officers involved would have adopted a similar approach to the reports of suspected drug dealing on a housing estate, or reports of person having been assaulted??
    Perhaps the officers involved need to be reminded that raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority, and that failure to be seen to properly and robustly investigate a reported raptor crime not only undermines public confidence in how the police deal with reported raptor crimes, but could also lead to allegations of neglect of duty or even misconduct in public office.
    The comments in the email can be interpreted in different ways, but I would like to think that if I was the recipient of the email which was sent in response to my questions regarding the incident, then I would be progressing the matter further, either through the police services own professional standards department or the IOPC.
    There would appear to be a lot of unanswered questions.

  10. That letter is a beauty! A perfect specimen that needs to be used in parliamentary debates and one day displayed in a museum, it is such a treasure. I am in no way suprised by the ‘brush it under the carpet’ mentality – just that someone was so open about it and incautiously put it in writing and signed it off in their own name. I just feel sorry for the witness, no doubt the response if he had seen a pheasant get popped off with an air rifle or a hare being coursed by a lurcher would have been better – it could hardly have been worse.

  11. I’m sure I have a memory of standing listening to a top cop at Carsington reservoir telling us how seriously he takes raptor crime. He was speaking at a Hen Harrier day……..or was I dreaming?

    1. Yes Paul, I was there too. What a significant police presence there was on the day. I assumed part of their intention was to protect Chris Packham – there had been dire warnings that certain elements would show up.

  12. The key thing that they failed to do, and you have to ask why, is look for the evidence. That should have been done immediately and before anyone at the estate was notified, so they weren’t forewarned and able to remove the evidence.

    I will return to the FACT that the only wildlife policing that is successful, which is why they promote their activities in those areas, is against the pleb “sports” of hare coursing and badger baiting.

  13. It is a ‘firm within a firm’ scenario… and very difficult to break down, all the more so since the Royal Family are involved:-(

  14. I think this e-mail explains Derbyshire Police’s heavy handed interpretation of the lockdown laws (far less engaging than other police forces). It could look like they wanted the plebs out of the countryside so that things like this could happen without any prying eyes, thus providing their erstwhile colleagues with a bumper shoot.

  15. Why hasn’t there been “a root and branch overhaul of procedures with examples of best practice being highlighted and encouraged, at a national level” already? These disparate police responses have been going on for years now.

    And there again we see the common theme of police officers involved in shoots themselves. Hardly an environment for objectivity…

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