Dorset Police were never far from the headlines last spring and summer, thanks to their appalling, botched investigation into the poisoning of a white-tailed eagle, found dead on a game-shooting estate and containing seven times the lethal dose of the rodenticide Brodifacoum.
As a recap for new blog readers, the corpse of the young satellite-tagged eagle, which was one of the birds from the high profile reintroduction project on the Isle of Wight, was found on the unnamed shooting estate in January 2022. Dorset Police’s wildlife crime team, led at the time by the exemplary Claire Dinsdale (one of few officers awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for her work), undertook a multi-agency operation to retrieve the corpse, sent it off for toxicology analysis, and when the results came back in early February 2022, she set about organising a warrant for a multi-agency team to search the estate to look for evidence that might identify who was responsible for this serious wildlife crime. She also issued a public appeal for information (here).
The news of this eagle’s death made national news and led to some disturbing criticism of Dorset Police by local Conservative MP Chris Loder, who publicly declared that Dorset ‘wasn’t the place for eagles’ and argued that the police should be focusing their resources on other types of criminality and not on suspected wildlife crime (see here). It also emerged that Chris Loder had some interesting connections with at least one prominent Dorset estate from whom his local party had received considerable donations, although it wasn’t known whether funding had been received from the [unnamed] shooting estate where the eagle had been found poisoned (see here).
By the end of March 2022, Dorset Police issued an astonishing statement, claiming that the toxicology results were “inconclusive” (actually they were anything but!) “and it has therefore not been possible to confirm that any criminal offence has been committed…..As a result, no further police action will be taken in relation to this report“.
This decision to prematurely pull the planned search and close the investigation made no sense whatsoever, including to the RSPB (here) and it even led to questions being tabled in the House of Lords (here). It was a ludicrous situation. For this dead eagle’s liver to contain seven times the lethal dose of Brodifacoum (i.e. seven times the amount needed to kill a bird the size of an eagle), it could only be the result of either (a) mis-use of the rodenticide or (b) deliberate abuse of the rodenticide. Either way, these are both offences and deserved a full investigation, especially given Dorset’s reputation as a bird of prey persecution hotspot (see here). For Dorset Police to effectively pull down the shutters and shout ‘Nothing to see here’, without conducting a search, looked very dodgy indeed.
Around the same time news also emerged that Claire Dinsdale QPM had gone on ‘long-term sick leave’ with stress and, strangely, Dorset Police’s Rural Wildlife & Heritage Crime Team had a name change, which happened just after MP Chris Loder’s Twitter outbursts about Dorset Police spending time investigating wildlife crime. The words ‘wildlife’ and ‘heritage’ were completely and mysteriously removed from the name, which had now become ‘Dorset Police Rural Crime Team’ (see here).
There followed months of protracted aggro, as FoIs were submitted to Dorset Police who first ignored them (e.g. see here) and then subsequently refused to provide the requested information (e.g. see here), even after appeal. Many people were asking whether there was evidence of political interference by Chris Loder MP and the Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner David Sidwick, influencing Dorset Police’s decision to drop the investigation. All parties denied this, of course, and no hard evidence has emerged to answer the questions, but Dorset Police’s refusal to answer FoI questions simply left these concerns hanging in the air like a bad smell.
Dorset Police then attempted a futile damage limitation exercise where they claimed their decision to prematurely close the investigation before conducting a search was ‘proportionate’ (see here) and then they claimed to have undertaken a review (effectively marking their own homework) which concluded that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ and ‘no outstanding lines of enquiry’ to progress the case. Well of course, if you fail to conduct a search you’re not going to find any evidence, are you?!
In August news emerged that Wildlife Crime Officer Claire Dinsdale QPM had left Dorset Police and was now working at the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
On 7th October 2022, Dorset Police published another statement about this botched case, probably in response to the ongoing criticism that simply refused to go away. The new statement, issued by Dorset Police Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Farrell (here), just reinforced the earlier denials of dodgy policing and repeated the line that, “…there was insufficient evidence to prove an offence of wilful poisoning by an individual – so no one person can be proven to have been criminally responsible for the bird’s death“.
On 16th November 2022, coinciding with the publication of the RSPB’s latest annual Birdcrime report, Claire Dinsdale posted a remarkable comment thread on Twitter as follows:
Tweet 1: 2020 – a series of concerning incidents in Dorset stood out to me & colleagues from various agencies. Progress was being made with multi agency searches & raising nationally at our Bird Of Prey PDG (Priority Delivery Group) meetings. It is clear to anyone with a basic understanding of wildlife crime that Dorset had a problem.
Tweet 2: Up until early 2022, there was thankfully no-one interfering with these specialised cases. Policing must be objective & not influenced by threats or pressure from other parties or their own officers. Without fear or favour. So no surprise to see Dorset is 2nd worst county in UK Bird Of Prey Crime 2021 data, with only 1 less than the No 1 slot.
Tweet 3: I hope lessons will be learned by those who made serious errors of judgement. Policing needs to respect & listen to those experienced & specialist officers on the ground.
Tweet 4: It needs to have the strength & courage to do what is right without personal regard for ambition or self importance. The public are not fools & will rightly hold us to account for the decisions made. When policing or other public servants get it wrong, they should say so.
Tweet 5: If I can correct the statement for the record here by the Dorset Echo and Natures Voice. The eagle case was shut down prematurely in my view & the planned multi agency search I had arranged was cancelled by a new boss with no understanding of wildlife crime and a very senior officer within days of an MPs rebuke & threats on police funding, got the word wildlife removed from our twitter bio. [Ed: I believe the Dorset Echo article to which Claire was referring was this one]
Tweet 6: The previous Chief Constable (who’d retired before these events) advised me should anyone interfere with one of my cases to come straight to him.
Tweet 7: There has been some great work done by WCOs colleagues in other forces. My last Dorset wildlife crime case myself & other agencies worked so hard on, will hopefully show how you can investigate bird of prey crime with searching being a key part of it.
Claire’s tweets earned her considerable support on Twitter – it takes an incredibly courageous officer to speak out on police failings – but by the end of November all but Tweet #7 had been deleted. We can only imagine what hell some senior officers in Dorset Police are now bringing to her door. Nevertheless, her revelations will lead to even more scrutiny of Dorset Police’s obvious mishandling of this case…more on that soon.
Meanwhile, and also in November 2022, MP Chris Loder’s apparently cosy relationship with Dorset Police was once again in the spotlight. Two Dorset residents and long term anti-sewage campaigners, Beverley Glock and Fran Swan, both received police visits to their homes after they’d registered to attend a public meeting to raise concerns with Chris Loder about sewage pollution in the area (see their press release here). [EDITOR UPDATE 4th Jan 2023: the original press release now appears to be unavailable. There is an archived copy (here) and if that also disappears I’ve provided a copy and paste version in the comments section of this blog].
What the actual?!
According to a subsequent article published on the DorsetLive website on 3rd December 2022 (here), Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner David Sidwick (whose astonishing correspondence with Chris Loder (“You and I need to get our ducks in the row on this one“) on the poisoned eagle fiasco was revealed by FoI, here) is now conducting a review about why a uniformed officer visited these two ladies, at night, apparently after police had received an email from Chris Loder’s office about their planned (registered!) attendance at the public meeting.
A spokesperson from Dorset Police is quoted:
“Officers from the neighbourhood policing team wished to understand the intentions of those people to ensure that public safety was preserved and any lawful protest could be facilitated. This approach was well-intentioned without any direction from the local MP“.
And David Sidwick is quoted saying he was given a “satisfactory explanation” (from Dorset Police) about why the two women were visited by police. He noted that it is “routine” that the police are notified of attendances to MP events following the murder of Sir David Amess MP, but has promised a review into the incident.
Public confidence in Dorset Police continues to plummet, and I guarantee there’ll be an even bigger shit storm after revelations emerge about Wednesday’s court case concerning a Dorset gamekeeper facing multiple charges of alleged raptor persecution, poisons and firearms offences dating back to March 2021.
UPDATE 4th January 2023: The estate that Dorset Police refused to search after discovery of poisoned eagle is the same location where gamekeeper was today convicted of multiple raptor persecution crimes (here)