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Police rather than SSPCA should tackle wildlife crime: Society

28 August 2014

Police officers, rather than SSPCA personnel, are best placed to tackle wildlife crime, according to the Law Society of Scotland.

In a response published today to the Scottish Government consultation on extra powers for officers for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Society calls for additional police officers to be dedicated to wildlife crime, such as the poisoning of birds of prey.

The proposed additional powers, which include searching vehicles suspected of carrying illegal carcases,
protected live animals and birds, illegal traps or poisons, are "most suitable for police officers", the Society states – but in the absence of increased Police Scotland resources, it would be appropriate for SSPCA inspectors to be given the powers.

Safeguards should however be applied, and such a move "should not represent an opening of the
floodgates for organisations to take over powers that are best suited to police officers", the Society adds. The SSPCA has specialist knowledge and expertise, and has experience of similar, if less extensive, powers under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, and no other organisation should be given the same rights.

SSPCA inspectors should be given specific training and examination before being allowed to exercise the powers; an inspector so doing should be accompanied by a witness, for safety purposes and to provide corroboration; mand "there should be appropriate mechanisms to review how powers are being exercised and for inspectors to be sanctioned should they be found to be exercising their powers inappropriately". This last is particularly important, the Society comments, given "the perceived lack of accountability for the SSPCA, as a charity, in comparison to Police Scotland. It is also important because of the potential for the SSPCA to use their powers to further their campaigning issues". Finally, there should be a review of how the powers are being exercised, two to five years after they are implemented.

Jim Drysdale, member of the Society’s Rural Affairs Committee – which considered the proposals along with the Criminal Law Committee – said: “We believe police officers are best placed to deal with such crime, and increasing the presence of uniformed police officers in remote areas where these crimes occur will assure the public that combating wildlife crime is being taken seriously.

“However, in the absence of increased police resources we support the proposal for SSPCA officers to be granted the proposed powers... We also believe there should be a review in two to five years’ time to ensure powers are being appropriately enforced.”

Click here to view the response.

 

The proposals have been backed by animal protection charity OneKind, which contrasts the powers under the 2006 Act in relation to suspected offences against domestic animals, with offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, where an SSPCA Inspector has no powers to act and must call for police assistance before investigating.

OneKind’s policy director Libby Anderson said: “The current situation is ludicrous and actually prevents Scottish SPCA investigators investigating offences which have caused the death of an animal. In other situations such as reports of dozens of illegal traps or snares, if there is no animal to be seen, the Society can’t investigate despite having some of the most knowledgeable and well-equipped people in the field to deal with these types of offences.”

In its response to the consultation, OneKind points to the "pre-eminent role" of the Scottish SPCA in securing convictions, often in partnership with police or local authority officials, and with conviction rates  "consistently higher than police conviction rates for this type of crime". It says responsible individuals and organisations should welcome the prospect of 60 trained inspectors with expertise in evidence-gathering being deployed.

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