Last month, Dorset Police did the unthinkable and prematurely closed their investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle that was found dead on an undisclosed shooting estate in North Dorset in January 2022 (see here).
This was an astonishing decision for a number of reasons (e.g. see here), not least because prior to this incident, Dorset Police’s Rural & Wildlife Crime Team enjoyed a good reputation for it’s proactive stance in the investigation of raptor persecution crimes, and indeed the team had been preparing to conduct a multi-agency search of the estate where this dead eagle had been found, until the head honchos at Dorset Police decided to pull the plug.
It’s even more surprising when you learn what other police investigations into alleged wildlife crime have taken place on that unnamed estate – more on that soon.
Dorset Police’s decision to close the investigation came soon after an extraordinary outburst from local MP Chris Loder, who had argued on Twitter that Dorset ‘wasn’t the place for eagles’ and that Dorset Police should be focusing their resources on other types of criminality (see here) and not on suspected wildlife crime. And it wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark made in haste; he continued his tirade for sometime afterwards (e.g. see here). A quick look at Chris Loder’s Register of Interests on the Parliamentary website showed that his local Conservative party had received large donations from at least one shooting estate in North Dorset.
Unsurprisingly, there was widespread suspicion that Dorset Police’s decision to close the poisoned eagle investigation had been influenced by undue political interference so I submitted two Freedom of Information requests to find out if there was any evidence to support that suspicion. One FoI request was submitted to Dorset Police and the other to the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner.
Dorset Police have since attempted to fob me off with this idiotic response:
Obviously, I have requested a review of Dorset Police’s Refusal Notice. I don’t accept the likelihood that an MP might have written to any one of 2,500 Dorset Police employees about this poisoned eagle. That would include those employed as call handlers, personal safety trainers, crime analysts, enquiry officers, IT consultants, project managers, administrations staff, mechanics, accountants, lawyers, to name just a few.
It’s common sense that an MP interested in the investigation of a poisoned eagle would be more likely to have corresponded with senior officers responsible for the supervision of the Force’s Rural & Wildlife Crime Team, and that probably means a handful of officers, let’s say ten, max (and that’s being generous). So Dorset Police can probably strike 2,490 people from their search, leaving ten people to spend two minutes searching their inboxes, amounting to 20 minutes of total search time, well within the statutory 18 hours of search time permitted for a Freedom of Information request.
I’ve also pointed out to Dorset Police’s Freedom of Information Officer that MPs are not classed as public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act so advising me to submit an FoI to Chris Loder MP was non-sensical, although surely an FoI Officer would already know this?!
I’ll blog about the outcome of my review request in due course.
As mentioned above, I’d originally submitted two FoI requests. My second one was an identical request for information about correspondence between Chris Loder MP and the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Conservative David Sidwick.
Initially I received an automated response from the PCC office confirming receipt of my request. Then it all went quiet. I have since emailed two further times to highlight that their response is overdue (they’re allowed 20 working days). Yesterday I finally had a response, apologising for the delay and saying:
“The response is just being pulled together and we will come back to you asap“.
I’ll blog about that response when it finally arrives.
UPDATE 21st April 2022: Chris Packham submits FoI requests to Dorset Police and the Crime Commissioner about poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 26th April 2022: The office of the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner: incompetent or something more sinister? (here)
UPDATE 29th April 2022: Email correspondence between Chris Loder MP and Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner re: poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 25th May 2022: Dorset Police and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner in breach of Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to Chris Packham’s request for info on poisoned eagle (here)
UPDATE 26th May 2022: Further breach of Freedom of Information Act by Dorset Police re: poisoned eagle (here)