EXCLUSIVE: MSPs want answers after wildlife crime cases collapse

Hen harrierweb

​Three cases have been thrown out of court after RSPB evidence was ruled inadmissable - now MSPs want answers

Graham Martin's photo

21st May 2017 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

MSPs are demanding answers following the collapse of a string of wildlife crime cases.

A powerful Holyrood committee has written to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) after a series of prosecutions were abandoned after video evidence provided by RSPB Scotland was ruled inadmissible.

As TFN revealed, three cases were thrown out just before going to trial in a matter of weeks.

Two involved the killing of endangered hen harriers and the other centred on the use of illegal pole traps.

In all cases video evidence captured by RSPB investigators formed a major tranche of the prosecution.

The charity has been demanding answers from the Crown Office – and it has been backed by the Scottish Parliament’s environment committee, which has written a letter to the COPFS.

Convener Graeme Dey MSP said: “Our Committee has written to the Crown Office seeking clarity on the use of evidence, particularly video evidence, in helping to address crimes against Scotland’s precious wildlife.

“These days, there’s clearly an argument for the use of video, CCTV, or even social media to be considered when a crime against any animal is alleged to have been committed.

“And, as it’s often the case that poaching or killing of wildlife occurs in some of the most remote areas in Scotland, these crimes can sometimes go under the radar because there is no one around to act as a witness.

“In light of recent events, we’ve asked the Crown Office for information on the admissibility of evidence, including video and CCTV, whether there is any clear guidance on this, and how they interpret whether evidence is admissible or not.”

Ian Thomson, head of investigations at RSPB Scotland, said: “We welcome this letter from the committee to the Crown Office, as it repeats many of the concerns that we have over the decision making process with regard to these recent cases.

“We have had a significant volume of correspondence regarding these issues and there has been considerable interest on social media. We look forward to the Crown Office response with interest.”

A Crown Office spokesman said:“We can confirm that the Crown Office has received correspondence from the committee and will respond in due course.

“The Crown is committed to the rigorous, fair and independent prosecution of crime, including wildlife and environmental crime. It has a specialist unit dedicated to the prosecution of wildlife and environmental crime, acting under the direction, as required, of a Senior Advocate Depute.

“The investigation of crime is subject to rules which have developed over many years and aim to strike a balance between enabling justice to be done and protecting the public from illegal or irregular invasions of their liberties. The Crown requires to, and will, apply the law fairly and independently to the circumstances of each case.

“Discussions have taken place over a number of years between RSPB and COPFS about the admissibility of evidence obtained through the use of covert surveillance. The Crown has consistently made clear the limitations which the law places on the admissibility of evidence which has been obtained irregularly. 

"The Crown will continue to have further dialogue with RSPB to explain the legal position”