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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Abbi Garton-Crosbie

Minister 'open to closing wildlife crime loopholes' following review of SSPCA powers

SCOTTISH ministers are “open to closing loopholes” in tackling wildlife crime following the publication of a report investigating whether an animal charity should be given greater powers.

The Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals (SSPCA) task force published a review into the lack of powers that the animal charity has in relation to wildlife crime, and whether they should be given further responsibilities, such as the ability to collect evidence.

The report, published on Tuesday but dated October 22, 2022, set out three different scenarios for the SSPCA going forward.

This ranged from giving them powers to seize evidence and apply for warrants, but not going so far as allowing officers to make an arrest, to giving the SSPCA slightly more powers to seize evidence during an investigation, or to engage in “enhanced partnership working”.

The review recommended the third option, due to a lack of “readily forthcoming” institutional support from Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

This is due to concerns over “primacy of responsibility, access to intelligence or interference with other cases and health and safety risks to personnel”, the report said.

The publication of the report was raised in Holyrood on Wednesday during portfolio questions.

Mark Ruskell (pictured above), the Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, “Barriers under existing powers mean that SSPCA inspectors who are already on the ground investigating animal abuse are prevented from seizing and securing evidence of wildlife-related crimes.

“And inspectors are further limited to enforcing powers only on living animals with their hands tied if a wild animal was found dead.

“So does the minister agree that this is inexcusable? And will she close these loopholes in future stages of the Wildlife Management Bill?”

Environment Minister Gillian Martin replied: “He'll know that when I was in the same committee as him in the last term we heard exactly that kind of concern being raised about SSPCA officers not being able to act in certain situations that they found that there had been animal cruelty, particularly in wildlife.

“So I guess the report that's been published today has outlined what the SSPCA can do in this space.

“I'm absolutely open to what we can do to support them to do that and close those loopholes.”

Earlier, Deputy Scottish Tory leader Meghan Gallacher had asked Martin what “reassurances she can provide to ensure the SSPCA are fully supported”.

Martin responded: “We will do everything in consultation with the SSPCA to make sure they’re supported to carry out any duties should we decide to give them to them.”

Susan Davies, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre who led the review, said in the recommendations: “It is evident that without the full institutional support of COPFS, PS and the NWCU an extension of powers, whatever the scope of those might be, to the SSPCA would be fraught.

“Such institutional support is not readily forthcoming due particularly due to concerns over primacy of responsibility, access to intelligence or interference with other cases and health and safety risks to personnel.”

Davies added that there is a “strong commitment to partnership working” to tackle wildlife crime, and said the third scenario was the most fitting course of action, adding that additional control will come through the licensing of grouse moors.

The recommendations include setting up a “more direct route”, rather than through 101, for the SSPCA to highlight a potential crime and seek a follow-up from police.

There would also be further training for police officers on wildlife crime issues and a stronger focus on educating the public.

Martin said she would provide a response to the recommendations in “due course”.

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