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Lawyers want more powers for charity to probe wildlife crimes

SCOTLAND's lawyers have backed calls for SSPCA inspectors to get more powers to investigate wildlife crime after judging police resources to be "inadequate" to deal with such offences.

NATURAL WONDER: The number of red kites is rising after the birds were re-introduced to Scotland. In 2012 there were 214 breeding pairs. Picture: Getty
NATURAL WONDER: The number of red kites is rising after the birds were re-introduced to Scotland. In 2012 there were 214 breeding pairs. Picture: Getty

The number of birds of prey known to have been poisoned doubled last year amid concerns traditional law enforcement is too stretched to successfully tackle the problem across swathes of rural Scotland.

Scottish Government officials have launched a consultation asking whether charity inspectors from the SSPCA, who already help look into such crimes, should have more powers to, for example, search the cars of suspected raptor killers.

Raptor poisonings peaked at 30 in 2009. There were 12 last year, including a red kite and a golden eagle, up from six in 2012.

The Law Society Of Scotland has now formally supported these proposals but still believes the job would be best done by the police.

Jim Drysdale, a member of the Society's Rural Affairs Committee, said: "Wildlife crime, such as the poisoning of birds of prey, is a serious issue and causes substantial public concern, and it is imperative such incidents are fully investigated and prosecuted when they occur.

"We believe police are best placed to deal with such crime, and increasing the presence of uniformed officers in remote areas where these crimes happen will assure the public that combatting 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, which include the ability to search vehicles suspected of carrying illegal carcasses, protected live animals and birds, and illegal traps or poisons.

"SSPCA officers would require specialist training and should be accompanied by a witness when exercising their powers under the new legislation. We also believe there should be a review in two to five years to ensure powers are being appropriately enforced."

In its formal submission to the consultation, the Society said: "Police Scotland currently lacks the resources and personnel to adequately investigate wildlife crime.

"The consultation states that where incidents are discovered "it is often impossible for police officers to attend the scene quickly".

"This inability to quickly assemble in remote countryside locations, with the appropriate vehicles and equipment, often results in perpetrators having long removed traps and poisons from the crime scene by the time the police arrive."

The SSPCA is funded by charitable donations so proposals for new powers would help the police without hurting its bottom line. The charity's inspectors already takes part in wildlife investigations. They were involved in 37 that ended in convictions over the last five years, 23 using their evidence alone.

Some gamekeepers oppose SSPCA inspectors getting extra powers. One, Mike Reddington, earlier this year spoke out against the proposals, claiming his life was ruined by an 18-month criminal investigation, eventually dropped, into allegations he used an illegal crow trap.

"It's frightening what the SSPCA were able to do to me and my family," Mr Reddington said. "They wanted to pursue this prosecution because, as an organisation, they are generally against the use of snares and these types of traps.

"I respect their right to have a view on traps, but if they are a lobbying body, they should not, in my view, be given powers similar to police. It would not happen in any other walk of life."

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Hobbies and general interest

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